Every month, Connections offers stories, images, reflections and meditations relating to the themes of each Sunday’s readings.  Material comes from the evening news and the every day, from the stage and screen, from the music world and the marketplace – all designed to help homilists “connect” the world of Monday through Saturday with the Gospel proclaimed on Sunday.

To give you an idea of what Connections is all about, we’ve assembled the following sampling of stories, meditations and 'connecting' reflections from recent issues of Connections:

The Body and Blood of the Lord [June 6, 2021]
Pentecost 2 [June 6, 2021]
Sunday 11 / Pentecost 3 [June 13, 2021]
Sunday 12 / Pentecost 4 [June 20, 2021]
Sunday 13 / Pentecost 5 [June 27, 2021]

Sunday 14 / Pentecost 6 [July 4, 2021]
Sunday 15 [July 11, 2021]
Pentecost 7 [July 11, 2021]
Sunday 16 / Pentecost 8 [July 18, 2021]
Sunday 17 / Pentecost 9 [July 25, 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!  


The Body and Blood of the Lord [B]

“Take, this is my body . . . this is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”
Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26

“Enough jam for a lifetime”

Food is more than just fuel for the body.  The whole process of growing food, of preparing food, of serving food, of enjoying food is the essence of all that is good for the soul, as well.

The poet Maxine Kumin writes about making blackberry jam from the blackberries that overrun her small farm in New Hampshire.

“Making jam — even though I complain how long it takes, how messy it is with its inevitable spatters and spills, how the lids and the jars somehow never match up at the end of the procedure — is rich with gratifications.  I get a lot of thinking done.  I puff up with feelings of providence.  Pretty soon I am flooded with memories.”

It was her late mother who taught her not only how to pickle, can and jam, but also taught her the “deep reservoir of patience” required to do what can be tedious work.

“I find myself talking to her as I work.  I am not nearly as diligent, I tell her, thumping the upended strainer into the kitchen scrap pile, destined for compost.  I miss her serious attention to detail.”

Her mother never romanticized life on a farm or minimized the back-breaking work. But for her mother, creating food was about creating family.  Her daughter recalls:

“When [my mother] died, there were several unopened jars in her cupboard.  I took them back with me after the funeral.  We ate them in her stead, as she would have wanted us to.  Enough jam for a lifetime, she would say with evident satisfaction after a day of scullery duty.  It was; it is.”

[From “Enough Jam for a Lifetime” from Women, Animals & Vegetables: Essays and Stories by Maxine Kumin.]

What Maxine Kumin’s mother created with her homemade jam, Jesus creates with the bread at this table: a family, a community, a church brought together in the memory of Jesus, God’s love made human in his Christ.  We come to the Eucharist to celebrate our identity as his disciples, to seek the sustaining grace to live the hard demands of such discipleship, to become his Church of justice, mercy and peace.  At Christ’s table, we always belong, we are always welcome.  As we celebrate Jesus’ great gift of the Eucharist, may we make our parish family’s table a place of reconciliation and compassion — and may we work  together to make all our family tables places of love and safety where Christ is present in our service to and care for one another.    


Second Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 5B]

“How can Satan drive out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand . . . ”
“ . . . whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of everlasting sin.”
Mark 3: 20-35

Symphonic hope

A renowned symphony conductor reflects on the dynamic of making music:

“A symphony orchestra is an amazing organism: so many different instruments and musicians playing together to create a single work of music.

“The aim of the orchestra is not to win; the aim is to make sure that every voice is heard.  If both the trumpet and the viola are going to be heard, the trumpet has to listen to the viola because the trumpet is much louder than the viola.  This requires great discipline.  An orchestra is a conversation about we.

“So wouldn’t it be great if, instead of only talking about adding more, more and more to the bottom line, companies started a new conversation:  We have enough of this; now, let’s have more of that or let’s build this.  Today we live in a world where if one country goes down, we all go down.  We need to understand that we all need to flourish in order for all of us to grow.  That’s the symphony orchestra model.  And that model can only be built by intelligent optimists who master the art of possibility for themselves and for everyone around them.”

[Conductor Benjamin Zander, from the article “Great! What’s next?” by Jurriaan Kamp, The Optimist, September/October 2012.]

Sometimes we act out of a self-centeredness that is of “Satan” and not out of the compassionate spirit of the Gospel we profess: without fail, the “house” we build out of arrogance and greed collapses in anger and hurt; the “symphony” we try to orchestrate from our own wants and interests disintegrates into a noisy tangle of out-of-sync instruments.  If a house that is a real home is to stand, it must be constructed of forgiveness, humility, and generosity; if we are to play the music that God places in every human heart, we must welcome and encourage everyone to raise their voices and contribute the sound and skill of their instruments.  Jesus’ life testifies to the reality that the “power” of “Beelzebub” cannot heal or restore or re-create — only the Spirit of God can bring about such transformation.  Let the reconciling and loving Spirit of God be the architect of the “houses” we seek to make for ourselves and families, the conductor of creation’s song of peace and healing sung by every human life and heart.  


11th Sunday of the Year B / Third Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 6B]

“The reign of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground . . . [or] like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes the greatest of shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
Mark 4: 26-34

Ring of gold

True story:

A church had collected clothing for the poor and homeless.  The parish youth group volunteered to sort, fold and pack the clothes.  The kids made a game of it, trying on items that caught their imaginations, creating weird costumes, merrily clowning as they worked.
Then one of the kids felt a lump in the pocket of a worn cardigan sweater.  He reached in the pocket and found a little bundle.  He opened it to find a gold wedding ring.  On the paper wrapped around the ring was written in a shaky hand:  I have no need of this now.  I hope it will help you.

The hilarity in the room was hushed.  The ring glowed as it was passed silently and reverently from one young hand to another.  No one joked, no one presumed to try on that sacrificial gift for a needy stranger.

Tenderly, the ring was refolded inside the note.  It was secured inside the pocket of the sweater with strong safety pin; the sweater was then packed off with the other clothes.
But for the students, the radiance of the ring remained.

[Phoebe Ann Lewis, Catholic Digest.]

Sometimes we never know how much a kind word we utter will mean to someone else or how even the smallest act of charity we extend will transform another person's life.  Christ asks us to embrace the faith of the sower: to be willing to plant seeds of kindness and joy wherever and whenever we can in the certain knowledge that it will, in some way, result in a harvest of God's life and love.  


12th Sunday of the Year B / Fourth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 7B]

Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”  
Mark 4: 35-41

Bethany House

A parishioner, in her will, left her small house to the parish.  The property was adjacent to the church property.

The pastor and the parish council began to look at possibilities for the property.  A number of options were suggested: a religious education center; a residence for the pastor, enabling the parish to sell the big, two-thirds-empty house he now lived in; tearing down the house to create a memorial park or expand the church parking lot.

Then a group of the town’s residents asked to meet with the council.  They proposed that the house be used as a temporary shelter for battered women, a safe place where women and their children could escape an abusive husband and begin the process of rebuilding their lives.

The council listened politely and empathetically.

Then the “buts” started . . .

It’s important work, but the house would be empty most of the time.

Do we want to get involved in these family situations?

Can we really make a difference here?

What about liability, the safety of parishioners who work on this, potential damage to the property? 

A member of the parish council said nothing during the barrage of questions and concerns.  Finally she asked to speak.  She told her own story of being in an abusive relationship years before and that a house like this and the group who maintained it had saved her life and her daughter’s.  She had never spoken about it before but felt she needed to speak up now.  This is more important than you know, she said quietly.

So the little house became Bethany House, named after the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus, the friends of Jesus with whom he often stayed.  Members of the parish stepped forward to fix up the house and furnish it.  And it has been a safe place for families battered by the winds of abuse and hardship. 

In a storm of doubt and skepticism, the “sleeping” Jesus awakens in the courage of a woman whose powerful story leads her parish to take on a challenging but important ministry in their community.  We don’t realize that the Gospel Jesus “sleeps” within our own “boats”; he “awakens” during the most difficult and demanding storms we encounter, enabling us to do what is right and just.  Within each of us is the grace of the “awakened” Jesus in today’s Gospel: the wisdom, the patience, the courage to discern the presence of God amid the storms of tension, fear, anxiety, and injustice we experience.  As Frederick Buechner writes in his book Secrets of the Dark:  “Christ sleeps in the deepest selves of all of us, and whatever we do in whatever time we have left, wherever we go, may we in whatever way we can call on him as the fishermen did in their boat to come awake within us and to give us courage, to give us hope, to show us, each one, our way.  May he be with us especially when the winds go mad and the waves run wild, as they will for all of us before we’re done, so that even in their midst we may find peace, find him.”  


13th Sunday of the Year B / Fifth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 8B]

One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.  Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death.  Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.”

There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.  “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”
Mark 5: 21-43

An altar boy comes home

When he was eight years old, he wanted to be an altar boy — he even harbored thoughts of becoming a priest.  It was the summer of 1958; he just completed the third grade.  He memorized all the Latin responses; he practiced all the movements.  Finally, the morning came when he would serve Mass for the first time.

To his horror, the eighth-grader who was supposed to serve with him didn’t show.  One of the sisters in the parish sat behind the flag in the sanctuary prompting instructions.  But disaster struck.  It came time for him to pick up the heavy missal and bring it to the other side of the altar.  As he genuflected while trying to balance the book on its stand, his foot got caught in the hem of his cassock, and both he and the missal went sprawling to the floor.  The priest stopped the Mass and turned.  His face was red, his forehead clenched like a fist.  “What’s going on?” he barked.  “I want you to leave and never serve Mass for me again!”  The boy ran from the sanctuary.  He ripped off his cassock and surplice.  And he never went back to church again.  Ever.

Thirty years later, he was traveling through the Midwest on business.  He passed a cathedral he and his family had driven by many times when he was boy.  The cathedral’s design was inspired by the silos of the farm belt.  Both the church’s simple interior and exterior were nothing like the Gothic churches he knew growing up.  He went inside where he struck up a conversation with a priest he met.  As they talked about the beautiful simplicity and symbolism of the church, he told the priest the story of his literal “fall from grace” — a story he had never told before.

The priest listened compassionately.  Then he replied, “Priests don’t always do everything right.   Please . . . forgive us.”

Tears came to his eyes.  The priest embraced him. 

And so began a long and bumpy road home.

[From “’Please . . . forgive us’: the story of my return to the church” by Don Lambert, National Catholic Reporter, May 15, 2018.]

The “touch of Jesus’ cloak” can be experienced in a simple act of generosity or a kind word offering forgiveness.  The hurt and humiliation suffered by this one-time altar boy, like the illness suffered by the hemorrhaging woman, was “healed” by the simple “touch” of a priest’s compassion; the “power” of Jesus mercy is extended in the priest’s simple, heart-felt apology.  May the despairing and needy experience the power of Jesus’ compassion and peace in the “cloak” of our compassion and care.    


14th Sunday of the Year B / Sixth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 9B]

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” 
Mark 6: 1-6a

The Wright Brothers

For most us, their story begins and ends on a windy sand dune at Kitty Hawk: two bicycle-makers from Ohio put a motor on a glider and invent the airplane.  And the rest is history.

In his biography of the brothers, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough tells the fascinating story of Wilbur and Orville Wright — and what happened before and after their one-minute flight on that North Carolina beach on December 17, 1903.

The two brothers did not just invent a machine, McCullough writes: they invented the art and craft of aviation itself.  Their studies of wind currents, the countless hours they spent observing birds riding those winds without flapping their wings, their detailed drawings of the shape and structure of their wings, convinced them that human beings could fly in a heavier-than-air machine.   And once the brothers built a “flyer” that could fly on its own power, they learned how to fly: how to ride with the wind and control the wings’ angles in order to stay in the air, how to maneuver the craft in whatever direction they wanted to go.  The Wrights discovered the science of aerodynamics.

What most impressed McCullough about The Wright Brothers was their exceptional courage and dedication, their limitless curiosity, and their infinite patience.  No problem seemed insurmountable.  That they had no more than a high school education, little money, and no contacts in high places ever stopped them in their “mission” to take to the air — not even the reality that every time they took off in one of their machines, they risked being killed.

They carried on despite the perception that they were bonkers.  

But they were anything but eccentric.  They were smart, careful, cultured men, devoted to the goal of human flight.  They relied on their imaginations, inexpensive materials, bicycle-related ideas about balance and steering, and the modest sums they earned building bicycles at their Dayton, Ohio, shop.  They read everything they could about flight and wrote to anyone who might reply.  They conducted painstakingly detailed experiments in a homemade wind tunnel, regrouped after many wrong turns and wrecked models, and endured several long stints roughing it on the desolate, cold, buggy North Carolina seashore.  The two brothers built several versions of their “flyer” until they finally got it right that December day at Kitty Hawk.

The Wright Brothers weren’t into flight in order to become famous or rich — they despised the limelight and avoided it whenever possible.  They were in it to do it right.  And to that end, they devoted every dollar they had as well as their lives. 

David McCullough writes, “They had this passion, this mission; there were obsessed to succeed.”

The story of the Wright Brothers is not just that of two homespun geniuses but of two brothers dedicated to seeking wisdom and understanding regarding the possibility of flight.  They are nothing less than prophets: the Wrights possessed the single-minded determination to make the unimaginable possible and understood that the realization of that vision would not come without cost or sacrifice.  Just as Wilbur and Orville Wright carried on with singular determination despite the ridicule and risk, Jesus’ teachings on mercy and justice calling the people of his hometown beyond their own safe, insulated world, are rejected with scorn and skepticism.  Jesus calls us — dares us — to change our perspective, our belief systems, and ourselves to “give flight” to God’s kingdom of peace and compassion for all his sons and daughters.  


15th Sunday of the Year B

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.  He instructed them to take nothing for their journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
Mark 6: 7-13

Walking sticks

She begins her program with Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.  Her fingers dance over the frets of her guitar with the quiet confidence of her years of practice and study.  She next plays into an Irish air, then a Bob Dylan folk song and finally a jazz improvisation of her own creation.  She plays for an audience of one: a 70-year-old woman dying of cancer.  The venue: the dying woman’s room at the local hospice.  Music is her ministry, providing a measure of peace and tranquility for those taking the last steps from this world into eternity. 

Most spring and summer nights, as soon as he gets home from the office, he heads to his small garden behind the garage.  This quarter-acre is his favorite place on earth.  He grows tomatoes, beans and corn.  He saves a few things for his own family; he shares the rest of the harvest of the good earth with needy families served by the local soup kitchen and pantry.

She suffered from bulimia as a teenager.  Thanks to her wise and caring family, she overcame this devastating disease.  Now a mother herself, she read about a support group for girls suffering from eating disorders.  Every week she is there.  She says very little; she is there to listen and to support, and when asked one-on-one by a girl who is terrified at what is happening to her, she offers the hope of her own story.

With their “walking sticks” — guitars, vegetable seeds, and their own stories and experiences — these three and so many others like them realize that Christ has sent them forth, like the Twelve in today’s Gospel, to be his prophets of peace, apostles of compassion, ministers of healing.  Aware of God’s love in our own lives, we are called to bring that love into the lives of others in a spirit of humility and gratitude.  As we make our own journey from this world to the next, may we heal the broken and help the stumbling we meet along our way in faithfulness to the God who heals us and helps us up when we stumble and fall.


Seventh Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 10B]

. . . John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”  And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him.  But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him.
COMMON LECTIONARY:  Mark 6: 14-29

Partying with Herod and Herodias

We have all acted, at one time or another, as Herod acts: 

We let our anger back us into a corner. 

We let our impatience get the better of us.

In an unguarded moment, we let our bravado force us into making promises we are in no position to make. 

Like Herod, we’ve all said something we later regret: an unkind remark about someone said thoughtlessly at lunch, an assessment of someone’s competency or intent we later discover was incorrect, a promise we made too quickly before we realized we could not possibly keep it.  Sometimes it’s the heat of the moment or too much to drink that leads us to say something insensitive or cruel.  Later, we realize the hurt we have caused and wish we could walk back our angry, thoughtless words.

Like Herod, we’ve been confronted by someone who saw right through us.  They didn’t threaten to expose us or embarrass us — they may have just asked a question that made it clear what we wanted to do was less than wise or ethical, or they conveyed by their silence their disapproval of the action we planned to take.  So we had their heads.  Well, maybe not their heads — but we kept our distance from them.  We avoided them from then on.  But, looking back, we realize the unsettling truth: they were right.

All very Herod-like.

Then there is something of Herodias in all of us:

We hold grudges.  We keep score.  We remember who slights us and we wait for the right moment to get back at them.  The grudges we keep seldom have the tragic consequences of Herodias, who manipulates her own daughter’s charms and her husband’s braggadocio to destroy John the Baptist — but we’ve let our anger divide our families, we’ve refused to surrender our need for vengeance for the sake of reconciliation, we’ve held on to our resentments until we got our satisfaction.

But there are, too, moments of grace in our lives, when we manage to act as John does: when we find a way to put aside our disappointments and let go of our anger (however justified) in order to make reconciliation possible, to speak God’s Word of justice, to be the means of peace in our homes and communities.

John’s martyrdom is, after Jesus’ crucifixion, the most horrifying episode in all of the Gospels.  As we hear the appalling story of John the Baptist’s execution and the events that led to it, consider the times when we have lost control of our ego, our arrogance, our self-righteousness, resulting in someone’s destruction.   May we seek the grace to stop when we are angry, to realize when we are acting selfishly, to see how our behavior is hurting others, and retreat to the peace of God’s grace. 


16th Sunday of the Year B / Eighth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 11B]

“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for the vast crowd, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Mark 6: 30-34 (53-56)

Shepherd-less

Working at your desk one morning, you stumble upon confidential information that a small electronics firm is about to be bought up by a Fortune 500 company.  You could make a major financial score by buying up shares of the small company.  And you’d easily get away with it, even though such trading would be considered insider trading — and illegal.  And shepherd-less.

You’re meeting with a potential client to close a sale you’ve been working on for some time.  The client is pretty much on board — except one of your competitors has made a last-minute proposal that provides better follow-up service.  So you go into offense, assuring the client that you’ll provide the same service, as well.  Good.  But then you add that you feel “obligated” to mention stories you have “heard” about problems your competitor has had with its service department.  You “confide” with the client that the word on the street is that the competing company may not be around much longer.  You have no real basis for your claims.  Your deception is shepherd-less.

You’re filling out the application for your first-choice college or revising your resume for your dream job.  Obviously you want to present yourself in the best possible light — but you overstate your experience “a little,” take “a bit” more credit for achievements than you’re entitled to, “pad” your credentials “just a smidge.”  You gotta sell yourself, you rationalize.  And nobody’s going to check.  And everybody does it.  Even though you don’t see it as lying, it is lying.  And worse — it’s shepherd-less.

In too many spheres of our lives, we have accepted misconduct, cheating and lying as the norm, as the “cost of doing business.”  We are the “shepherd-less” for whom Jesus’ heart breaks.  In his Christ, God has raised up for us a shepherd to guide us in our search, not for the empty riches of consumerism, but for the priceless treasures of compassion and reconciliation; a shepherd to help us negotiate life’s rough crags and dangerous drop-offs to make our way to God’s eternal pasture of peace and fulfillment; a shepherd who journeys with us and helps us to clear the obstacles and hurdles of fear and self-interest in order to live lives centered in what is right and just.  


17th Sunday of the Year / Ninth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 12B]

. . . Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those reclining, and also as much fish as they wanted.
John 6: 1-15

The holiness of table

If a home has a center, it’s the table.  As families, we gather every day at a table, be it a beautifully crafted table in a reserved room of the house, a granite countertop on one side of an island in the kitchen, a folding table in the backyard for those summer nights when we grill.

But tables are never just about food.  At our tables we experience the goodness of creation in the bounty of the harvest blessed and shared.  At our tables we encounter a staggering history of needs felt, met or denied; of stammered confessions; of hands groping for the last crust of bread; of glasses glowing, lifted and clinked in joy and determination; of accusations and reprieves. 

Tables are the places where we learn who we are, where we are loved and welcomed no matter what.  At our family table we sit neither at the last place nor the first place but at our place — and learn over time that we are not the center of the table but make up its heart.  The holiness of new loves, of life’s milestone celebrations, of consolation at times of loss and pain is found at our tables, where God is the unseen but always present Guest.

[Suggested by Eucharist as Sacrament of Initiation by Nathan D. Mitchell.]

In the miracle of the loaves and fish, Jesus transforms a crowd of all ages, talents, abilities and backgrounds into a community of generosity.  That vision of being a Eucharistic community is re-created each time we gather at this parish table and at our own family tables.  That is the challenge of the Gospel and the mandate of the Eucharist that is foreshadowed in this miracle story: to take up the hard work of reconciliation and compassion begun by God, who dwells in our midst; to bring the peace of God’s dwelling place humbly and lovingly into our own homes; to become the body and blood of Jesus that we receive at his table where all — saints and sinners — are welcomed.