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:

Epiphany of the Lord [January 3, 2021]
Baptism of the Lord [January 10, 2021]

Second Sunday of the Year [January 17, 2021]
Third Sunday of the Year / Third Sunday after Epiphany [January 24, 2021]
Fourth Sunday of the Year / Fourth Sunday after Epiphany [January 31, 2021]

Fifth Sunday of the Year / Fifth Sunday after Epiphany [February 7, 2021]
Sixth Sunday of the Year [February 14, 2021]
Last Sunday after Epiphany [February 14, 2021]

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.

Enjoy!  


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

Faith in the journey

At the age of 13, her world darkened.  Her happiness disappeared; she no longer found joy in her classes where she excelled or in playing her beloved clarinet; she was becoming more and more withdrawn.  By the time her family and friends realized she was struggling, she was very sick.  At school, counselors and therapists confronted her about her detachment; her friends collectively decided that she was not worth their concern.  Everything and everyone she turned to for love and acceptance were missing when she most needed it.  Something “broke” inside of her.  She didn’t care if she lived or died.

So, desperate for a change, she transferred to another school — a Catholic high school.  She was the daughter of a non-practicing Methodist and a nonpracticing Presbyterian.  They left the decision of church and religion to her and her siblings — as long as they identified as “some sort of Christian.”  She didn’t know whether she believed in God or not.

“I found I was searching for something that refused to make itself known,” she remembers.  “If God existed, I concluded, God was not interested in my soul.  God did not include me, but my too-cool-for-religion friends did.  That is, until they didn’t.”

At her new school, signs of God were pretty much everywhere she looked.  That first day she felt like an invader.  She wasn’t interested in a new beginning; she simply wanted to put in her time.  She wasn’t interested in new friends, either.  She was far from convinced that she would succeed in this new school — she just knew that her last school left her defeated.

But that’s when the unexpected happened.

“It took time and patience, but new friends found me.  They did not give up on the moody and disconnected new student.  Nothing was easy, but I was taught how to assimilate.  It was a new form of love I had not yet known . . .

“I was 18 years old when I was baptized into the Catholic Church.  The first person I was introduced to on my first day of class stood next to me at the baptismal font as my chosen godmother.  Since then, I have decided that my faith lies in my journey.  I do not fear a lack of acceptance because I know God has a plan in motion.  With God, I am no longer an outsider looking in.  With God, I have found my missing community.”

[From “Through the Motions: My patient journey with depression” by Nicole Bazis, America, November 28, 2016.]

Today’s solemnity of the Epiphany centers on the journey that every one of us travels, the journey that is ultimately a search for God: finding God in our life’s meaning, finding God in belonging to family and community; finding God in the satisfaction of doing good.  As the magi experienced, God sets “stars” ahead of us — for this student, the star was a group of teachers and classmates who would not let her be lost to the darkness of her depression  The understanding and support of family and friends, the forgiveness we extend and receive, the meaning we come in know in giving and serving those in need, are all “epiphanies” of God’s presence in our own Bethlehems.  In the new year before us, may our hearts and spirits behold these many epiphanies in which we re-discover the love of “Emmanuel” — God in our midst.    


Baptism of the Lord [B]

Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan.  On coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.  And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Mark 1: 4-11

“Bat cole”

You first heard it as a child — the Voice.  You wanted that extra candy bar or escape the boundaries of the back yard or slug your annoying little brother, but you heard that Voice saying,  Don’t!  You know what Mom said.  Now, you may not have paid any attention to the Voice.  But you heard it.  You know you did.

As you got older, the Voice spoke a little more critically.  That was dumb . . . You really came off like a jerk . . . What were you thinking?  But the Voice could also be encouraging and affirming:  Nice work . . . You’ll be glad you did that . . . You didn’t deserve that.  The Voice would prod, nudge or clobber.  As you grew up, you understood that the Voice was right.

Eventually, we make friends with the Voice.  We don’t just listen to the Voice, we converse with the Voice.  I’m not sure what I should do here . . . What was that all about? . . . How can I make things better?  And together, you and the Voice find a way to move on, to work it out, to put things back together.

In time, we begin to hear the Voice speaking more comforting and consoling words:  You are loved.  You belong.  You are mine.

In the Jewish tradition, there is a name for that Voice:  “bat cole”, which means literally, “the daughter of a sound.”  That “daughter of a sound,” the smallest, thinnest of voices, is the Voice of God — God speaking to us in the events of our lives, in the people we love, in the characters and conundrums that challenge us.  In the story of his baptism, the bat cole is heard by Jesus:  You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.  May our hearts be attentive to that same Voice speaking to us in the course of the simple, undramatic everyday of our lives— the Voice of God cajoling and nudging us to his dwelling place.  


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]

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Mark 1: 14-20

What’s in a kiss . . .

A mom learns about the power of a mother’s kiss:

“My youngest daughter always had me kissing her boo-boos.  I did it because, as every mother knows, it makes it feel better.  What I never understood was the thought process behind the action.

“One day my daughter asked me to kiss her boo-boo when I was pressed for time, so I hurriedly obliged.  She cried, telling me it wasn’t any good because my kiss didn’t have any love in it.  I realized that kissing boo-boos was really about loving the pain away.

“This simple truth, along with the value of mindfulness my daughter taught me, has encouraged me to slow down, to become more aware and present in the moment.  Slowing down is a conscious decision to live at a gentler pace and to make the most of the time I have.

“When my own mother passed away, I did not forget the love she gave me; it will live on in my heart forever.  She gave me life, but beyond that, she gave me love . . .

“With that errant kiss, I realized it was my responsibility as a mother to watch over my child’s spiritual growth . . . By simply showing my child kindness through listening, I believe I have satisfied my child’s earliest spiritual needs.  By being genuine — that is, personally connected and physically present — I have satisfied my child’s developing spirit.”

[Mary Ann Rollano, writing in Spirituality & Health, November/December 2005.]

Christ entrusts to each one of us — whether we are a fisherman or a mom — the work of discipleship: to extend, in whatever our circumstances, the love of God to all; to proclaim, in our own homes and communities, the compassion, the forgiveness, the justice of the Gospel.  As God is present to us in the person of Jesus, we are called to be present to one another in our love and care.  To be the “fishers” that Christ calls us to become is to “cast the net” of God’s love that we have experienced upon the waters of our time and place, to reach out and grasp the hand of those who struggle and stumble, to “love” away the hurt and pain and fear of those we love.  


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.   


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

Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.  Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
Jesus told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.  For this purpose I have come.”  So Jesus went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
Mark 1: 29-39

The blessed bathrobe

A woman was diagnosed with cancer.  Despite being well off financially, she always had a feeling of emptiness.  Seeking to fill that void, she amassed more and more things – books and magazines, art and collectibles, even more and more people.  But the more she accumulated, the less time she had to enjoy them all, to appreciate them all, to know them all.  Her motto had become “Have everything, experience nothing.”

That began to change with a bathrobe, one of the few things she took with her to the hospital for her cancer surgery.  Every morning she would put it on and took comfort in how soft it was and enjoyed its beautiful color, its warmth, the way it moved around her when she moved.

She later told her doctor, “One morning as I was putting it on I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  I know it sounds funny, but I felt so lucky just to have it.  But the odd part is that it wasn’t new.  I had owned it and worn it now and then for quite a few years.  Possibly because it was one of five bathrobes in my closet, I had never really seen it before.”

When she completed her chemotherapy, she held a huge garage sale and sold more than half the things she owned.  Her friends thought she had gone “chemo-crazy,” but getting rid of so many possessions brought a new joy and appreciation to her life.  Until her illness, she had no idea what was in her closets or on her bookshelves, she didn't know half the people whose telephone numbers she had in her address book.

But the fewer things she has she now enjoys; she has fewer but much deeper friendships.  Having and experiencing, she discovered, are very different.

[Adapted from My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.]

In today’s Gospel, Mark includes the short but important detail that Jesus, in the midst of his demanding preaching and healing, seeks out a “deserted,” out-of-the-way place to pray.  We all need that deserted place in which we reconnect with God and the things of the heart.  That “deserted” place may be a set time for prayer every day, a walk in the woods, a quiet corner of the house or apartment, or even a bathrobe -- whatever keeps us aware of God's presence in our life and renews within us a sense of gratitude for the blessings of that presence.


Sixth Sunday of the Year [B]

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it.  Be made clean.”
Mark 1: 40-45

The Power (Rangers) of compassion

A group of downtown churches took turns each week during the winter months offering dinner, shelter and breakfast to the city’s homeless.  When it was her church’s turn, a mom brought her three-year-old and six-year-old sons with her to help.

Three-year-old Alex had just gotten new sneakers — green Power Ranger sneakers — and he proudly showed them off to the other volunteers.  Alex had wanted the sneakers for some time, and after a tough negotiation with his mother, he finally won her over.
While Mom and the adults prepared the spaghetti supper, Alex and his brother Nick played in a corner of the church kitchen.

Soon guests started to fill the basement.  Amid the addicted, disabled and mentally ill, one woman stood out.  She and her young son looked neat, clean, and absolutely terrified.  She had just escaped a dangerously abusive relationship with only the clothes on her back.  All of the women’s shelters were full, so they sent her to the church shelter where she and her son would at least be safe and warm for the night.

The woman asked for only one plate.  She explained that her little boy, Darius, was too terrified to eat.  Alex and Nick’s mother asked if maybe he would eat in the kitchen with her two sons.  So she made a plate of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and called Alex and Nick over.  She introduced her boys to Darius and three sat down.  With boys his own age, Darius started to relax and began to eat.

Darius noticed Alex’s sneakers.  He pointed in awe at the really cool green Power Ranger figures.  Alex innocently said, “Maybe your mom can get you some green Power Ranger sneakers.”  Darius just looked down and said nothing.

As the kitchen crew began to clean up, Alex told his mom, “Darius really liked my sneakers.  I hope his mom buys him some!”  Alex’s mom explained that wasn’t too likely right now because his mom didn’t have any money.  They didn’t even have a home.  Alex just said, “Oh,” trying to understand how nice people like Darius and his mother could not have a place to live.  Alex went off to play. 

Just as they were getting ready to leave, Alex asked his mom, “Mom, if I give Darius my sneakers, will you carry me to the car?”

Stunned, his mom said, “Of course, are you sure you want to do this?”

“Yeah,” he said, “I have lots of stuff, he doesn’t even have a house.  I think Jesus would want me to give him my shoes.”  He took off his beloved sneakers and skipped over and gave them to Darius.  As his mom looked around, there wasn’t a dry eye in the kitchen.

Over the next twenty-four hours, Alex’s generosity inspired other folks to come forward to help Darius and his mom with clothes, a place to live and even a job and daycare for Darius.

All because a little boy’s sense of compassion was bigger than even his awesome Power Ranger sneakers.

[From “Who Will You Give Your Sneakers To?” by Brenda Dingwall, The Anglican Digest, Winter 2014.]

“If you wish, you can make me clean,” the leper says to Jesus.  The leper’s request of Jesus is a challenge to each one of us.  We can transform our lives and world in the goodness of God — if we wish.  Jesus’ compassion makes it possible for us to perform our own miracles of healing and reconciliation, to restore to health and community those society considers “lepers,” to be vehicles of God’s grace to the broken-hearted, the lost, the despairing.  But what is first needed is the openness of heart and the humility of gratitude possessed by little Alex that enables us to put aside our own fears and doubts and interests to do so.  Christ the Healer and Reconciler promises us the grace to be imitators of his compassion and forgiveness whenever we are ready to take the first step in healing the wounds and cleaning the “leprosy” that afflicts us and divides us from one another.    


Last Sunday after Epiphany [B]

Jesus was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white . . .
Mark 9: 2-10

What do you a tip for a diagnosis like that?

A true story from The New York Times’ “Metropolitan Diary” [July 6, 2015]:

A few minutes after eating lunch one day at a Chelsea restaurant, a man suddenly felt feverish and nauseous.  Fearing food poisoning and not wanting to be sick on the subway, he hailed a cab to head for home. 

A yellow cab pulled over and the man got in.  He immediately called his fiancée to let her know what was going on. 

After he finished the call, the cab driver, who overheard the conversation, asked, “Excuse me, but what are your symptoms?”  Realizing the man’s stunned look, the driver reassured him, “Don’t worry.  I’m a doctor.”

The driver explained that he was a physician in his native Pakistan; he was driving a taxi while awaiting his United States residency papers.  The doctor-cum-cabbie listened to the man’s symptoms, asked the usual doctor-patient questions, and diagnosed gastroenteritis, saving the man a visit to a clinic or ER.

It was the first time the New Yorker used the “30 percent tip” option when paying the fare.

A doctor’s skill and compassion, buried under bureaucratic red tape, comes to the fore in a moment of healing.  The encounter between the two is a moment of transfiguration.  On the mount of the transfiguration, Peter, James and John realize for the first time the divinity in their midst in the person of Jesus.  That same “divinity” shines within and through them and us, as well.  The Spirit of God dwelling within us enables us to realize our own potential for generosity, compassion and gratitude — and, in the light of Christ’s transfiguration, to recognize that same goodness in others.  Like the sick passenger who comes to realize the skill of the physician whose profession is hidden because of legal technicalities, we are challenged as disciples of Jesus not to let fear or doubt repress our own abilities and opportunities to transform hearts and souls in the “divinity” within us and around us in others.