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:

Baptism of the Lord [January 9, 2022]

Second Sunday of the Year / Second Sunday after Epiphany [January 16, 2022]
Third Sunday of the Year / Third Sunday after Epiphany [January 23, 2022]
Fourth Sunday of the Year / Fourth Sunday after Epiphany [January 30, 2022]

Fifth Sunday of the Year / Fifth Sunday after Epiphany [February 6, 2022]
Sixth Sunday of the Year / Sixth Sunday after Epiphany [February 13, 2022]
Seventh Sunday of the Year / Seventh Sunday after Epiphany [February 20, 2022]
Eighth Sunday of the Year [February 27, 2022]

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!  
 


Baptism of the Lord [C]

When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

“The Color of Water”

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother is author James McBride’s best-selling memoir of growing up in a family of twelve brothers and sisters, raised by a white Jewish mother who was evasive about her Jewish ethnicity but steadfast in her love for her children. 

As a boy in Brooklyn’s Red Hook projects, James knew his “light skinned” mother Ruth was different — and wondered if he was black or white.  When he asked her mother one day if he was black or white, she snapped “You’re a human being.  Educate yourself or you’ll be a nobody!”  For Ruth, education, not race or culture, was the realization of one’s full identity.

But young James wasn’t satisfied.  So he asked his mother, a very religious woman, whether God is black or white.

Mother Ruth sighed, “Oh boy . . . God’s not black.  He’s not white.  He’s a spirit.”

“Does he like black or white people better?’

“He loves all people.  He’s a spirit.”

“What’s a spirit?”

“A spirit’s a spirit.”

“What color is God’s spirit?”

“It doesn’t have a color,” his mother said.  “God is the color of water.  Water doesn’t have a color.”

James writes that he “could buy that” and, as he got older, continued to appreciate more deeply and profoundly the many dimensions of his racial and cultural identity.  On this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we see in the clear, life-sustaining waters of our own baptisms the “color” of our identity as the “beloved” of God, the God who loves us, who cries with us and for us, who knows the pain and despair and anger we experience because he has experienced it all himself by becoming one of us.  In the waters of baptism, we embrace the Spirit of God and that Spirit embraces us, as well:  God the Creator and Father is present to us in all our tears and laughter, in all our struggles and triumphs, in our every grief and joy.  


Second Sunday of the Year [C]

When the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, he called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”
John 2: 1-11

When sturdy love is what you need . . .

Michelle was at work when a friend texted the link to a newspaper article from her hometown newspaper.  It included a photo of an icy Montana highway, a pickup with the hood smashed in and a blue Subaru Outback that had been cut cleanly in half.  According to the story, the woman who had been driving the Outback was their former high school classmate Deirdre.  Deirdre survived, but her three-year-old daughter Zoe was killed.

The tragedy dredged up painful memories for Michelle.  Three years before, Michelle and her husband, Eric, lost their 22-month son, Seamus, when they were struck in a crosswalk by a careless driver.  Michelle writes that their marriage became “like a ship that had weathered a bad storm — grateful and relieved to be afloat, but the damage was extensive.”

The couple had just become parents again.  The twins, a boy and a girl, had just turned one and the family was about to celebrate Christmas for the first time in three years.  “Having more children did not reduce the sadness that had become the identifying feature of our marriage, but it did force our hearts to expand to accommodate other, happier emotions,” Michelle remembers.

Michelle had not talked to Deirdre in 20 years.  Michelle wasn’t sure what to do.  One afternoon, while the twins were napping, Michelle retrieved from the basement a wicker basket of cards they had received when Seamus died.  There are no words . . . You are in our hearts . . . I cannot imagine your pain.  No one can think of the perfect thing to say at such times.  But Michelle remembered the comfort the notes had brought her, and so decided to send Deirdre a note.  To her surprise, Deirdre replied by e-mail and the two were soon regularly exchanging texts.  In April, Michelle had a trip planned to Montana, and they arranged to meet.

Michelle and Deirdre greeted each other with a hug.  There was no small talk.  Walking together through the streets of Deirdre’s neighborhood, they talked about watching their children die, moving easily between medical terms and “mother” terms.  Michelle asked Dierdre how her marriage was holding up.  And Dierdre opened up about the struggle her husband was having over the decision to withdraw care for Zoe.  Michelle listened, giving Deirdre space to voice her fears, and then offering the assurance of a wife and mother who had been through the same devastating experience herself, and found the way to  move on.

Michelle later wrote that she hoped Deirdre would discover what she learned: “that grief is exactly as painful as you think it will be, but with time you will learn to love your sadness because of the tiny shoots of joy and gratitude that sprout around it, like new growth on scorched earth.

As she drove home from Deirdre’s, Michelle “thought about the comfort of sturdy, unglamorous things, my marriage among them.  Ours may not be a great love story, but set against a backdrop of cruel nature and boundless beauty, I didn’t need it to be.”

[From “Modern Love: When Sturdy Love Is What You Need” by Michelle DeBarry, The New York Times, October 19, 2018.]

Good marriages, imperfect but “sturdy,” manifest the love of God at its most powerful: love that enables spouses to navigate together life’s hard roads of fear, heartache and illness.  As ministers of the marriage sacrament, wives and husbands, in their love for one another, help all of us to recognize the great love of God the Father made real for us in the person of his Christ, the Bridegroom.  Throughout Scripture, God speaks of his love for humanity in terms of espousal; Christ, who performed his first miracle at a wedding, called himself “the Bridegroom” who comes to bring his people to the wedding feast of the Father.  Spouses, in their “sturdy” love centered in selfless trust, are living signs to all of us of the hope of God’s great wedding banquet.  


Third Sunday of the Year [C]

In the synagogue, Jesus stood up and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah and found the passage where it was written:  “’The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor . . . ‘”
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down.  “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21

“We do cancer . . . ”

Richard was a widower; his wife had suffered a long and painful death from cancer.  Then he met Celia; they came to love each other and each other’s children dearly.   

Less than a year into their courtship, Celia discovered a lump in her breast.  She had gone to the doctor alone and was alone when she received the devastating news: the lump was malignant.

Once the reality set it in, her first thought was for Richard and his children.  They had been profoundly wounded by cancer only a few years before.  They were still healing from it.  How could she bring this terrible thing into their lives again?

She called Richard immediately and, without telling him why, simply broke off their relationship.  For several weeks she refused his phone calls and returned his letters.  But Richard would not give up and begged her to see him.

Finally, Celia relented and arranged to meet him to say goodbye.  When they met, she could see the deep strain and hurt on his face.  Richard gently asked Celia why she had broken up with him.  Finally, on the verge of tears, she told Richard the truth: that she had found a lump in her breast, that it was malignant, that she had undergone surgery a few weeks before and would begin chemotherapy the following week.

“You and the children have lived through this once already,” she told him, “I won't put you through it again.”

He looked at her, his jaw dropping.  “You have cancer?” he asked.  Dumbly, she nodded, the tears beginning to run down her cheeks.

“Oh, Celia,” he said – and began to laugh with relief.  “We can do cancer . . . we know how to do cancer.  I thought that you didn't love me.”

Oh, but she did.  And they got through it together, happily married.

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

The Gospel of compassion and reconciliation is “fulfilled” every time we imitate the selfless giving of Jesus.  Whether we can “do cancer,” whether we know how to comfort and listen and console, whether we can make a soup kitchen or a tutoring program work, we make Isaiah's vision a reality in our own Nazareths.  As witnesses of Christ's resurrection, as baptized disciples of his church, we inherit the Spirit’s call to “bring glad tidings” and “proclaim the Lord’s favor” to the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, the oppressed and the helpless.  Whatever gifts and graces we possess can work great and wondrous things when done in the Spirit of God.


Fourth Sunday of the Year [C]

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote me the proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things we have heard were done in Capernaum . . . ’
“Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place . . . ”
Luke 4: 21-30

The onion woman

Once upon a time there was a wicked peasant woman.  When she died, she did not leave a single good deed behind, so the devils took her and plunged her into a lake of fire.

Her guardian angel stood and tried to think of some good deed she had performed so that the angel could plead for her before God.  Finally, he remembered something; it was not a very big thing, but it was something with which he could plead her case before God.

“Lord, she once pulled up an onion in her garden and gave it to a poor beggar,” the angel said to God.

God answered:  “Very well.  Take that onion, hold it out to her in the lake of fire, and let her take hold of it and be pulled out.  And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Heaven.  But if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.”

The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her.  “Come, catch hold and I’ll pull you out.”  The old woman grabbed the onion and the angel began to carefully pull her out by the stalks.  He had just about pulled her to safety when other sinners in the lake of fire saw how she was being drawn out and tried to catch hold of the onion so that they, too, might be saved.  But the wicked woman began kicking them off. 

“I’m to be saved, not you!” she screamed.  “It’s my onion, no yours!”

As soon as she said that, the onion broke, and she fell back into the lake.  

All her guardian angel could do was weep and walk away.

[From The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.]

In today’s Gospel, Jesus emphasizes the generosity of God to those outside the Jewish community, that all men and women of every race and nation are loved by God as his own children.  It is a message that comes as a shock to his Nazareth hearers, who consider Jesus' words betrayal and blasphemy.  Like the wicked onion woman, they are too absorbed in their own needs and too fearful for their own safety and security to even consider that the blessings and goodness of God transcends their own limited image of the holy.  Jesus begins his ministry among us with a new vision of God that strikes down the image of God as intolerant judge of wicked humanity and upholds the God of love and forgiveness, the God who is Father and Mother of every human being.


Fifth Sunday of the Year [C]

“Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Luke 5: 1-11

Think big — but act small . . .

The newspaper comic strip Dilbert is cartoonist Scott Adams’ take on the absurdities of the workplace.

In a recent episode, the slow-witted, incompetent, “pointy-haired” boss is trying — unsuccessfully — to give a pep talk to his cynical engineers:

“I want you to think like entrepreneurs,” the boss coaches.

“Should we take huge risks?” the engineers ask.

“No, the stockholders would hate that,” the boss responds.

“Should we act as though we have no boss?” one engineer suggests.

“No,” the boss warns, “that would be chaos.”

“Will we become billionaires if we succeed?” the engineers want to know.

The boss shakes his head.  “Raises are capped at 3% this year.”

Trying to regroup, the boss says, “I’m just saying you should be more creative.”

“And then we should act?” the engineers counter.

“No,” the boss warns. “That’s when the problems happen.”

[Dilbert, August 30, 2015.]

We often operate that way: thinking big but acting small — if we act at all.  Following the conventional wisdom, we avoid the “deep water”: we recoil at the thought that we might be capable of doing something great or even something different.  But only by risking our nets in the unknown “deep water” can we transform our lives and our world in the Gospel values of compassion, justice and reconciliation.  The “deep water” is the risking of our own security and comfort and the putting aside of our discouragement and exhaustion, continuing to “fish” despite the ridicule and doubts of those discouraged souls who have returned to shore.  Confident of God’s grace and wisdom, we can transform our own Gennesarets by setting our small boats and fishing nets — despite the long night already — to the work of bringing in the “catch” of God’s forgiveness and peace.  


Sixth Sunday of the Year [C]

“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours . . . but woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
Luke 6: 17, 20-26

Hope isn’t only about the future

She once saw her life as an uninterrupted line from birth to decline.  She had married and given birth to a wonderful little boy, Zach, and was teaching at the divinity school of a major university.  The next part of the plan was to achieve tenure, master the Russian language, and watch Zach grow up.  She called it “pragmatic determinism.”

But after being diagnosed with stage IV cancer at the age of 35, time no longer pointed to the future.  Time was a “loop”: start treatment, manage side effects, recover, start treatment again.  She now lived “in the present.” The sicker she became, the more “hope” was a word that pointed to the unbearable: a husband and child left behind, an end without an ending.

Kate Bowler is an associate professor at Duke Divinity School.  She tells the story of her sudden and unexpected confrontation with her mortality in her best-selling book Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved.  In a New Year’s essay in The New York Times [December 30, 2018], she writes of her struggle to find tangible reasons to hope:

“Approaching the new year, I wondered how I might renew hope for a future I can no longer see.  So I rummaged around for inspiration in well-used daily planners and to-do lists, only to discover a stack of cards I had intended to mail long ago.  Thank you for reintroducing me to tuna casserole.  Thank you for inviting Zach to make a maze out of boxes.  Yes, my dog often licks the television and thank you so much for taking him.  There were photos that friends had hung by my bed of our last (surprisingly violent) round of Mennonite board games and of my misguided attempt to take my cello Christmas caroling.  Someone had framed an image of Zach, grinning on my lap, my chemotherapy fluids hidden by a series of elaborate sock puppets we had created.

“The terrible gift of a terrible illness is that it has in fact taught me to live in the moment.  But when I look at these mementos, I realize that I am learning more than to seize the day.  In losing my future, the mundane began to sparkle.  The things I love — the things I should love — become clearer, brighter.  This is transcendence, the past and the future experienced together in moments where I can see a flicker of eternity.

“So instead of New Year’s resolutions, I drew up a list for 2019 of experiences that had already passed: a record not of self-mastery but of genuine surprise.  1. My oncology nurse became a dear friend.  2. Even in the hospital I felt the love of God.  3. Zach is under the impression that I never get tired.  These are my small miracles scattered like breadcrumbs, the way forward dotting the path behind me.”

Kate Bowler’s perspective of time and the direction of her life have been turned upside down.  Life’s meaning is not something to be fulfilled at some future point but is realized now; hope is to be found in the present, in everyday joys that suddenly become miracles.  In today’s Gospel, Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, Jesus turns upside down our own understanding of power and wealth, of joy and fulfillment.  Jesus challenges everything our me-first, bottom-line-centered culture holds dear.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain articulates a new vision, a new attitude in approaching life, a vision and attitude Kate Bowler has come embrace: the treasure of life and time itself, the hope that can be realized in compassion and generosity, the fulfillment that is experienced in freeing ourselves from the pursuit of the things of this world so as to embrace the small but lasting “miracles” of the kingdom of God.  


Seventh Sunday of the Year [C]

“Love your enemies and do good to them, expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High . . . Be merciful as your Father is
merciful . . .
“For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
Luke 6: 27-38

“In good times and in bad times”

In his book Overcoming Life’s Disappointments, Rabbi Harold Kushner tells of meeting with a young couple to prepare their wedding ceremony.  Everything was going well until the prospective bridegroom asked:

“Rabbi Kushner, would you be willing to make one small change in the ceremony?  Instead of pronouncing us husband and wife till death do us part, could you pronounce us husband and wife for as long as our love lasts?  We’ve talked about this, and we both feel that if we ever get to the point where we no longer love each other, it’s not morally right for us to be stuck with each other and be deprived of any chance for happiness.”

Rabbi Kushner would not agree to the change.

“I told them that I respected their distaste for hypocrisy, for not wanting to live in a loveless marriage,” Rabbi Kushner writes.  “I told them that I could understand their fear of making a total commitment to this marriage because it might hurt too much if it didn’t work out.  But I warned them that if they didn’t enter this marriage on the assumption that it was for keeps, if they moved in together but didn’t totally unpack, ready to move out when things got tough, there was no chance that they would be happy together.  They would not be committed enough to stay together during the inevitable tough times . . . One of the promises a husband and wife make to each other is the commitment to stick together through the hard times in the faith that the hard times will one day end and the affection they once felt for each other will reemerge.”

That is Jesus’ point in today’s Gospel: love — authentic love — is hard work.  But love endures long after the romance hardens into reality; love finds its fulfillment in diapers and mortgages and college tuition and the messes and complexities of everyday life; love dares to hope and sacrifice despite the disappointments and hurts.  May we dare to love as God loves us: regardless of the cost and sacrifice, without limit or condition, totally and completely, in the eternal hope that such love will transform us and those we love in the life of God.  


Eighth Sunday of the Year [C]

“ . . . remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”
Luke 6: 39-45

If you want the plunger pushed, than you push it . . .

Semon Frank Thompson served as superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary from 1994 until 1998.  As superintendent, Thompson carried out two executions — Ohio’s only two executions in the last half-century.  Thompson supervised the medical technicians who strapped the inmate to the gurney and hooked up the intravenous lines and trained the executioner who depressed the plunger of the syringe injecting the lethal chemicals into the condemned’s veins.  And it was Thompson who asked the condemned if he had any last words. 

And then he watched as the man died.  Sometimes the condemned died quietly and quickly; sometimes the condemned writhed and gasped in pain.

Frank Thompson once supported capital punishment, but, he says, “being involved in the taking of two lives forced me to reckon, on a moral level, with the reality of capital punishment.”

So Thompson offers this challenge:  “If politicians refuse to outlaw state-sponsored killing, then a minimum condition of their public service should be their inclusion in a lottery where they are randomly selected and trained to provide hands-on assistance in an execution . . . a sort of jury service for executions.”

Despite its legality and the clinical conditions in which it is carried out, Thompson points out that assisting at an execution “does not insulate a person from having to deal psychologically with killing another person . . . The results of participating in an execution are exactly what you’d expect: post-traumatic stress disorder, with all its related maladies — substance abuse, suicide, depression.”

Thompson concludes:  “Capital punishment in the United States is cloaked in a cloud of indifference and moral passivity.  Requiring Americans who are responsible for its continuation to bear more of its costs is the only way to ensure that it is soon abolished altogether.”

[“Support the death penalty?  Then assist with an execution” by Semon Frank Thompson, The Boston Globe, September 2, 2018.]

Often the “splinter” in our own “eye” is our indifference and passivity to the pain and hurt suffered by those around us.  Warden Thompson challenges lawmakers — and we who elect them — to realize the consequences of our ignorance and obliviousness to the impact of such policies and practices as the death penalty.  Jesus challenges all who would be his followers to dare to remove from our own eyes the “wooden beam” of self-centeredness that prevents us from seeing the obstacles we lay in the road to the kingdom of God.