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:

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]

First Sunday of Advent [November 29, 2020]
Second Sunday of Advent [December 6, 2020]
Fourth Sunday of Advent [December 20, 2020]
Feast of the Holy Family [December 27, 2020]

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


NOVEMBER 1: 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.  

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

The work of the Baptizer

‘Tis the busy season for Santa Claus and Kris Kringle.

We are all working very hard to be Santa for those we love — or to be good enough for Santa to come down our chimney this Christmas with that perfect gift.

We may be someone’s Kris Kringle or “secret Santa” this Christmas:  We may have chosen a member of our family or classmate or fellow worker for whom we will try to make this Christmas a little more special and happier.

Being Santa or Kris Kringle can be hard but fulfilling work; we can receive as much as we give in our Santa-playing.

But every Advent our Gospel readings center on this strange, austere, humorless character John the Baptizer.  The John of the Gospel is no one’s idea of Christmas joy: subsisting on locusts and wild honey, clad in camel hair, haunting a wild riverbank.  We happily take on the role of Kris Kringle, but no way do we see ourselves as John the Baptizer.

But that is exactly who Advent calls us to be.  In our own baptisms we promised to become Baptizers along our own Jordan Rivers.  So let’s take on the work of the “Baptizer” this Christmas; let’s become heralds like John as we go about our holiday preparations:  May we give the gifts of “comfort” and joy . . . may every kindness and generosity we extend this Christmas mirror Christ’s presence in our midst . . . may we joyfully take on the hard work of creating a highway through the rugged lands of estrangement and alienation . . . may the gifts and greetings and hospitality we extend proclaim the good news that God’s compassion has dawned.

Every Advent, John the Baptizer calls us to embrace the meaning of our own baptisms: compassion, forgiveness, justice, selflessness.  This Christmas, let us take up John’s Advent work: to straighten the crooked roads of our lives, to transform ‘deserts’ barren of love into places of welcome and reconciliation, to gather up the lost and forgotten, to proclaim the coming of God’s Christ in our midst.  

Fourth Sunday of Advent [B]

“Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you . . . Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  Behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”
Luke 1: 26-38

Everyday annunciations

She had not talked to her friend for some time and wondered how she was doing.  She had heard that the family was going through a tough time.  One morning, she saw that a movie they both said they were looking forward to seeing had opened.  So she called her:  “Hi.  Would you like to take in a movie this afternoon?”  After a pause, her friend said, “You know, that would be great.  It would give us a chance to talk.”

Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you.  Blessed are you. 

The chair of the college’s education department asked her to come in.  “A downtown church is organizing an after-school program for at-risk kids,” he explained. “They’ve asked if any of our students could serve as tutors.  You have a real gift for working with young kids and you’re going to make a great teacher.  So I thought of you immediately.”  She asked a lot of questions; she wondered how she could work it into her busy class schedule; and she didn’t have anywhere near the confidence in herself that her professor clearly had.  But, in the end, she said:  “I’d love to help.”

The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of God will overshadow you.  Nothing is impossible for God. 

After her beloved father’s death from Alzheimer’s disease, she began making an annual gift to the Alzheimer’s Association.  One day she received a call asking if she would help organize a “memory walk” for Alzheimer’s research.  As she talked to the volunteer, her eyes fell on the photo of her Dad on her desk.  “Yes, I’d love to help.” 

I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done.

It may seem that annunciations only happen to Mary and people in the Bible — but the fact is that God calls every one of us to the vocation of prophet, the ministry of charity, the work of forgiveness.  Gabriel may come in the form of an invitation, a plea, a concern for another’s well-being.  Like Mary, we think of all the kinds of reasons why this doesn’t make any sense or that it’s beyond us — but it is in these everyday annunciations that God changes the course of history.  In the Advents of our lives, God calls us to bring his Christ into our own time and place; may we respond with the faith and trust of Mary, putting aside our own doubts and fears to say “I am your servant, O God.  Be it done.”  

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

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.