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:

Third Sunday of Lent [March 3, 2024]
Fourth Sunday of Lent [March 10, 2024]
Fifth Sunday of Lent [March 17, 2024]
Passion (Palm) Sunday [March 24, 2024]

Easter Sunday [March 31, 2024]
Second Sunday of Easter  [April 7, 2024]
Third Sunday of Easter  [April 14, 2024]
Fourth Sunday of Easter  [April 21, 2024]
Fifth Sunday of Easter  [April 28, 2024]

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.



Third Sunday of Lent [B]

[Jesus] found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there.  He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area . . .
“Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
John 2: 13-25

“Enough . . . ”

Enough, she said sadly.  This wasn’t working.  They had some wonderful times together and he was a nice guy – but it was clear, at least to her, that each wanted different things out of life.  So, with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face, she wished him well and they parted.

Enough, he said with frustration.  The project was going nowhere.  They were wasting valuable time and resources.  There were too many competing visions and goals — and egos.  He decided to cancel the next meeting; instead, he spoke one-on-one with each member of the team.  He reviewed what needed to be done to move forward.  Then he and the team member decided together whether he or she should continue working on the project.  A smaller, more focused and in-sync group then brought the work to completion.

Enough, they said.  It had been a long year, with both Mom and Dad working at home and the kids attending classes online in their rooms.  Living in the same 3,000 square-feet of space 24/7 can’t help but lead to impatience, bickering, boredom and, frankly, loneliness.  So Mom and Dad announced a cleaning day.  Every room of the house — yes, including your rooms, kids — would be vacuumed, cleaned and dusted.  Clothes would be hung up (laundered, if needed), books and games put back where they belonged, stuff not needed would be donated or tossed.  Everyone worked together cleaning the kitchen and shared family spaces.  The day ended with pizza and a movie.  Dinner was restored as “sacred time,” with everyone assigned a role and attendance mandatory.  With a clean and orderly house, they found that their attitudes had gotten a bit more positive.  They started to be a family again.  Just enough . . .

We all reach the point of “enough”: when we’re tired of accepting less than what’s possible, when what’s right and just eludes us because of selfishness and avarice, when we refuse to remain silent any longer for the sake of complacency posing as “peace.” Jesus reaches that point of “enough” in today’s Gospel: “enough” of the commerce and profit that has degraded the temple – the time had come to restore the temple as a place of prayer, of welcome and peace, of charity and kindness.  What Jesus does in the cleansing of the temple we must do in our lives: “enough” of the merchants who try to sell us on a set of beliefs and values based on self-interest and greed; “enough” of the “money changers” who shortchange us of the time and attention we want for family and friends; “enough” of the useless, the meaningless, and the destructive that make our lives less than what God created them to be. 

Fourth Sunday of Lent [B]

Jesus said to Nicodemus:  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him . . . ”
John 3: 14-21

Seeing yourself in better light

She has never seen herself as beautiful or pretty.  When she thumbs through fashion magazines in waiting rooms, she feels like some alien being.  She cannot look at pictures of herself; she recoils from what she sees as her crooked nose, her acne scars and scabs, her short stature and skinny figure.

But that’s not what he sees.  He was immediately captivated by her smile, a smile that lit up her entire face.  The sound of her laugh and the kindness in her voice brought him a sense of peace and reassurance he had never experienced in another woman before.   And the first time they kissed, she trembled and cried with embarrassment.  But, as their relationship continued, she began to think that maybe she wasn’t so ugly after all.

From the moment they met, he knew he was way out of her league.  He worked hard — but his prospects were not what a woman of her background and education would find very promising.  He found himself struggling to keep up with her.  He had nothing to offer someone “like her.”

But that’s not what she saw.  She was taken by his sense of humor and humility, his generosity of spirit, his ability to listen patiently and support unconditionally.  His easy way with his family and friends, particularly his younger siblings, was a delight to watch.  His integrity and common sense were so unlike the other guys she had known.  Oh, she knew how much he had to offer — and she felt like the luckiest woman in the world when he worked up the courage to propose. 

In his late-night conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus, Jesus presents a very different picture of God — and of ourselves.  Jesus reveals to Nicodemus a God of life and restoration, a God who seeks not our punishment or humiliation but our healing and reconciliation with him and with one another.  The God Jesus reveals is not the God of condemnation and destruction but the God of forgiveness, mercy and compassion.  And that should help us re-imagine ourselves: that, created in God’s love, we are more than the superficialities of appearance and assets, of wit and social graces.  In the light of his Christ, we come to realize the good in ourselves that we often do not see; in that light, we find joy and reason to be grateful for the good that others bring to our lives.  As Jesus explains to Nicodemus, God has created us as an extension of himself: from the moment of our creation, his life and love are part of our very being.  In our embracing of his Spirit of justice and mercy, in our work to re-make our world in his dream of compassion and peace, the love in which we were created transforms our lives and the lives of those we love and who love us into the very light and love of God.  

Fifth Sunday of Lent [B]

“Amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit . . . ”
John 12: 20-33

Stories from an emptied nest

Their daughter has moved into a new home with her husband and newborn baby — their first grandchild.  Their son is a senior at college, busy with his senior thesis and first job interviews.  So they’re empty nesters — and, truth be told, they’re looking forward to this next chapter of their lives.

The big four-bedroom house is more than they need.  It sold within days of listing.  They quickly found a three-bedroom townhouse within walking distance of downtown.  Perfect.
The downsizing begins.  They’re not especially sentimental — but going through the things they accumulated in four-plus decades of marriage becomes a surprisingly emotional experience.

Packing up the kids’ sports equipment brings back memories of those cold, early morning hockey practices.  Wrapped in parkas and warmed by who-knows-how many cups of hot coffee, they sat in empty freezing arenas before sunrise as their son developed into a skilled hockey player who would be recruited by several colleges.

They never realized how chipped and scratched their good dishes were until they packed them for moving.  But every crack evokes a warm memory of a Christmas or Thanksgiving, every chip brings to mind the face or voice of a cherished loved one.

In the basement, they move out the old dining room table — one of the first pieces of furniture they bought together.  Just starting out, the table was more than they could afford — she was especially anxious about buying it.  But it soon became the center of their home, the place where their new family came together for dinner and games, for homework and bill-paying, temporary landing places for laundry and mail.

They’re moving steadily through it all — until they come to their children’s baby books.  Once they begin thumbing through the pages, they found themselves siting together on the couch amid the packing boxes, reliving their fears of being first-time parenthood, the mistakes they made that their kids managed to survive, the long nights and lasting joys their daughter and son brought them. 

The story of a marriage told in ten rooms: each room with a story of heartbreak and healing, of planting in fear and reaping in hope, of experiencing little “deaths” on the way to a new chapter of life.

A couple downsizing their home comes to realize the many small “deaths” and “resurrections” they have experienced.  Every life is filled with moments of change and discovery — some difficult and painful.  Jesus’ image of the “grain of wheat” reminds us that life demands change, risk and “dying” to our fears, despair and sense of self — but if we’re willing to risk loving and allowing ourselves to be loved, Jesus promises us the harvest of the Gospel wheat.  In our willingness to nurture healing and forgiveness, in our openness to God’s grace and the compassion of others, there will always be new beginnings, second chances, constant plantings and unlimited bounties.  Only by loving is love returned, only by reaching out beyond ourselves do we learn and grow, only by giving to others do we receive, only by dying do we rise to new life. 

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion [B]

When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
Mark 14: 1 – 15: 47

Next for the centurion . . . ?

In Beginner’s Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life, minister and writer Kate Braestrup wonders about the centurion standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross — and the moment of grace he experiences:      

“In the unnatural darkness that had fallen, feeling the ground shake beneath him, hearing cries of terror echoing in the city as the veil in the temple rent itself in two like a woman tearing her hair in grief, the centurion glances up.  Something happens to him.  ‘Truly, this man was innocent, the son of God,’ the centurion said, and praises God, and this is all we are told, as if this is somehow enough.

“In what voice did he speak these first words of Gentile witness?  Did he pronounce them crisply, as a military command?  Did he mouth them?  Moan them?  Or were they cried as if torn from the mouth of one whose heart had been pierced through by a vision too glorious, a love too perfect to bear . . . ?

“What do you say, and how do you say it, when it suddenly becomes clear that you have just murdered the Son of God . . . ?

“The centurion was surrounded by children of God.  Everyone on every cross, the robbers, the bandits, the Jews and the Gentiles, each of these was one of God’s babies, even if the Gospel writers [focus only] on Christ.  The only God worth worshipping would shake His earth and tear His hair over the least of these . . .

“If it is obvious enough, the trembling earth occasionally startles us into glimpsing what is true.  The centurion looked into the face of the dying Christ, and the Not-See suddenly saw.

“What could he do?  Or undo . . . ?  It was too late.  The man was dead by the centurion’s own order.

“And the grace of God was with him nonetheless . . . not because of who [the centurion] was but because of what God is.”

So what happens to the centurion — and to us — as we walk down from the hill of crucifixion, realizing the grave injustice that has taken place?  How do we continue our lives as we walk through the broken earth and under the relentless darkness in the wake of Jesus’ death?  We try to grasp the grace of this moment.  We try to let the light of God’s selfless love illuminate our own vision to see the face of the Crucified Jesus in every crucified face.  We reach out to grasp the crosses of those weighed down by the greed and prejudice of the world.  We take up our own crosses determined that how we live our lives will give witness to the Crucified One who now walks among us as the Risen One.  We go on to live our lives in the hope that our every act of love and compassion, our every offering of forgiveness and justice, will resonate with our confession:   “This is truly the Son of God.”

Easter: The Resurrection of the Lord [B]

“Do not be amazed!  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Behold the place where they laid him.”
Mark 16: 1-7

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, when it was still dark . . .
John 20: 1-9

A new morning

Starting over.  Beginning again.

A new school year. 
A new baseball season.
New seeds are planted.
New jobs are begun.

Starting over.  Beginning again.

Every morning you wake up and, by God, you’re still alive, you have another chance to start over.  Perhaps when you put your head down on your pillow the night before, you still carried in your body and soul the burdens of the day just completed: things left undone, bad things said, good things left unsaid, and lots of things left in abeyance.   In the morning all is possibility, all is opportunity, all is good, and all is God. 

Starting over.  Beginning again.

Ours is a religion about dawn.  Creation begins in the morning.  The women come to the tomb in the morning.  The morning is when it happens.  Lose the morning and you have lost the day.  Jesus’ resurrection is the new day, the fresh pages of the calendar book, the new moment on the horizon.  Whatever was yesterday is passed and done.

Starting over.  Beginning again.

Over and over and over again Scripture is the story of one chance after another, one renewal after another, until it all comes together at the empty tomb of Easter morning.  The empty tomb is God’s everlasting invitation to start over.  Who of us are content with who we are?  Who of us are content with things as they are?  Who among us does not long to be more loving, more generous, more tenderhearted, more passionate, more creative, more thoughtful, more imaginative, more useful.  Who of us would not love to have the courage to act upon our convictions as opposed to our fears?  Who among us does not know a heart to heal, a broken relationship to mend, a lost soul to find?

God wakes us up again this Easter.  It is a new day.  It is a new season.  There are new seeds to plant, new places to see, new tasks to complete.

Starting over.  Beginning again.

[Adapted from Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living by Peter J. Gomes.]

Let the angel’s good news open our imaginations to the possibilities; let the light that illuminates the cave that can no longer hold Jesus illuminate our hearts to see our lives transformed in God’s grace; let the Spirit of God release in us hope that we dare not imagine, joy that we fear will be betrayed, dreams that we doubt can ever be realized.  Easter is more than an event — Easter is an attitude; Easter is liberation; Easter is life, our life, in the here and now.   Let this morning be the morning to begin again, to start over, to cross the chasm, to repair the broken — to rediscover God’s extraordinary grace transforming our most ordinary of days.  

Second Sunday of Easter [B]

[Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
John 20: 19-31

Scars that matter . . .

In an essay in The New York Times [November 6, 2020], writer Rebecca Bohanan tells the story of an ex-boyfriend she met at a New York restaurant. 

“He called himself a cook, which seemed like a casual title for someone staffed in the kitchen of a Michelin three-star restaurant.  But cooking was what he did, preparing another chef’s recipes as a steppingstone to his greater culinary dreams,” she recalls.

The two met in a bar and struck up a conversation just after the restaurant closed.  He asked for her number.  And a few days later, he called.  For their first date, he offered to come and cook dinner for her.  After the restaurant closed one night, he came with a bag full of groceries and went to work.

She watched and learned as he chopped, sliced, mixed and sauteed.  But she was taken aback by the abrasions on his arms – damage done by open flame, the greatest hazard of his job.  A particularly bad burn stretched all the way from his wrist to his elbow.

“You should put something on that,” she said.


“But’s it’s going to scar.”

“Scars are good,” he said.  “They’re reminders of what you’ve done.”

“Yours are a little misleading,” she said.  “You look like you’ve seen hand-to-hand combat.”

“I have.  Every night in that kitchen, I fight for what really matters to me.”

“A job?” she asked.

“No,” he said.  Not a job.  I’m going to open my own restaurant.  Where I’ll do the menu.  It’s going to be my place, my hang.  I’ll stand in my own kitchen, tell some other . . . kid what to cook, then I’ll look at my scars and remember everything I did to get there.”

We all have scars that continue to teach us and define us: some “scars” remind us to be more careful and attentive, but many of our “scars” are the result of becoming more conscious of others, of growing in wisdom and understanding, of paying the price for creating and building what is good and valuable in our lives.  This Second Sunday of Easter celebrates the scars from our own Good Fridays that remain after our own experiences of resurrection.  Our “nailmarks” remind us that all pain and grief, all ridicule and suffering, all disappointments and anguish, are transformed into healing and peace in the love of God that we experience from others and that we extend to them.  Jesus says to Thomas and his brothers not to be afraid of the nailmarks and the scars and the fractured bones and the crushed spirit and the broken heart.  Compassion, forgiveness, justice — no matter how clumsily offered — can heal and mend.  In the light of unwavering hope, with the assurance of God’s unlimited grace, even the simplest act of kindness and understanding is the realization of Easter in our midst.    

Third Sunday of Easter [B]

“ . . . a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”
Luke 24: 35-48

“Peace be with you.”  No, really . . .

Keep peace in the family — so better that she say nothing.  Over the years, whenever she would confront him about his drinking, he would laugh it off as her worrying, but, over time, he would get angry at her nagging.  So she’s found it easier to let him sleep it off, telling the kids that Daddy has a headache.  Daddy is having more and more headaches — but there’s peace in the house.

Quiet has been restored in the neighborhood — at least for now.  The police were called when the kids’ taunting escalated into an ugly brawl.  They were called again when obscene graffiti was spray-painted on one family’s garage door.  Families of color have endured all kinds of verbal and physical abuse; in these difficult days of the pandemic, an Asian family one street over has been a constant target.  Right now, everyone is keeping pretty much to themselves, avoiding any more conflict.  So there’s peace for now – but a very tense and unstable peace.

Business as usual — kind of.  The folks on the line carry on with their usual skill and professionalism to produce a good product; the sales team hustles to keep the orders coming in.  But at the corporate level, it’s another story.  The company is in the process of being sold.  Attorneys are in and out of the building; mountains of sales and expense data are being generated and analyzed.  And rumors are flying through the building, but, of course, no one is saying anything.  Anxiety and fear hang over every aspect of the company — and not just at the conference table in the corporate suite but at the family tables of their employees, as well.   Business as usual?  Hardly.

In the Easter Gospels, the Risen Jesus appears, greeting the disciples with “peace” — but the “peace” of Easter is nothing like our understanding of “peace.”  We often settle for peace that’s merely the absence of conflict, peace that settles for nothing bad happening, peace that is equated with the status quo — but too often fear and tension lie just below the surface of such “peace.”  True peace is rooted in the Gospel of justice and mercy; lasting peace is possible only when the reasons for fear and doubt are confronted.  Peace — Christ’s peace — is realized when all are respected and honored as sisters and brothers in the light of the Risen One.  Thomas Merton wrote that “instead of loving what you think is peace, love other[s] and love God above all.  And instead of hating the people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war.  If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed — but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”  May we become “witnesses” of Christ’s peace in our families and communities, our churches and workplaces — and may the work of peace begin within ourselves. 

Fourth Sunday of Easter [B]
“A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them . . .
“I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me . . . I will lay down my life for the sheep.”
John 10:11-18

Negotiating the rocky terrain
A rabbi who has prepared many couples for marriage shares the wisdom of his years of experience:
“Think of two married couples.  One couple insists that they have never had a serious quarrel in all the years they have been married.  They have never spoken a harsh word to each other.  Each considers the other his or his best friend in the world.  The other couple has lost count of the number of angry, screaming, ashtray-throwing fights they have had.  Time and again, they have found themselves wondering if their relationship had a future.  But every time they pondered the option of separation, they would peer into the abyss and step back from it.  They would remember how much they had shared and realize how much they cared for each other.  Which relationship would you think to be stronger, more able to survive an unanticipated downturn or sudden tragedy?  I would have more confidence in the second couple, who have been taught by experience how strong the bond between them is.”
[Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, Overcoming Life's Disappointments.]
In the work of “shepherding,” sometimes we are the shepherd who reaches out to the one lost or in trouble and, at other times, we are the one in distress in need of a shepherd’s saving hand.  In Christ, we belong to one another; in imitating Christ, our lives are at the service of one another.  “Good shepherding” is not dominating or patronizing nor is it for the weak and self-absorbed; "good shepherding" is selfless and generous work that realizes with gratitude that we are sometimes the shepherd and sometimes the struggling and lost.  Christ calls each one of us to take on the work of “good shepherding”: to bring compassion and healing to the sick, the troubled and abused; to bring back the lost, the scattered and the forgotten; to enable people to move beyond their fears and doubts to embrace the mercy and love of God. 

Fifth Sunday of Easter [B]
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower . . . you are the branches.”
John 15: 1-8

“Why I Make Sam Go To Church”
Sam is the only kid he knows that goes to church.  But Mom insists.
Mom is writer Anne Lamott, who has chronicled her own search for God in her troubled life in her bestselling books, including Grace Eventually and Plan B.  In Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Mom explains why she wants her poor little Presbyterian church to be part of her son's life:
“I want to give him what I found in the world, a path and a little light to see by.  Most of the people I know who have what I want – which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy – are people with a deep sense of spirituality.  They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith . . . They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle.
“When I was at the end of my rope, the people of St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me to hold on.  The church became my home - that it's where, when you show up, they have to let you in.  They let me in.  They even said, You come back now.
“Sam was welcomed and prayed for at St. Andrew's seven months before he was born.  When I announced during worship that I was pregnant, people cheered.  All these old people, raised in Bible-thumping homes in the Deep South, clapped.  Even the women whose grown-up boys had been or were doing time in jails or prisons rejoiced for me . . . Women [who] live pretty close to the bone financially on small Social Security checks . . . routinely sidled up to me and stuffed bills in my pockets – tens and twenties . . . And then almost immediately they set about providing for us.  They brought clothes, they brought me casseroles to keep in the freezer, they brought me assurance that this baby was going to be part of the family.
“I was usually filled with a sense of something like shame until I'd remember that wonderful line of Blake's – that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love – and I would take a long breath and force these words out of my strangled throat:  Thank you.”
Today’s Gospel calls us to realize the connections between Christ and us and between us and one another.  On the night before he died (the setting of today's Gospel) Jesus reminds his disciples of every time and place that, in his love, we are “grafted” to one another in ways we do not completely realize or understand.  As branches of Christ the vine, we are part of something greater than ourselves, something which transforms and transcends the fragileness of our lives.  May our families, communities and parishes become extended branches for all of us who struggle to realize our own harvests of joy and discovery, of grace and faithfulness.