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:

Fifth Sunday of Easter [May 2, 2021]
Sixth Sunday of Easter [May 9, 2021]
Ascension of the Lord [May 16, 2021]
Seventh Sunday of Easter [May 16, 2021]
Pentecost [May 23, 2021]
Most Holy Trinity [May 30, 2021]

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]

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!  


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.  


Sixth Sunday of Easter [B]

“This is my commandment:  Love one another as I have loved you . . .”
John 15: 9-17

A cherished raspberry

In Boston’s Quincy Market there is a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.  The memorial is made up of six pillars of plexiglass.  On a background of the millions of prisoner numbers assigned by the Nazis to those who perished, each pillar contains stories that speak of the cruelty and suffering in the camps.

But one of the pillars tells a different story.  It is about a little girl named Ilse, a childhood friend of Gerda Weissman Klein, who recounts the tale.  Gerda remembers the morning when Ilse, who was about six years old at the time of her internment at Auschwitz, found a single raspberry somewhere in the camp.  Ilse carried the raspberry all day long in a protected fold of her pocket.  That evening, her eyes shining with happiness, Ilse presented the raspberry on a leaf to her friend Gerda.

“Imagine a world,” writes Gerda, “in which your entire possession is one raspberry, and you give it to your friend.”

In the midst of the horror of the Holocaust, little Ilse manages to discover the joy that only comes from bringing that same joy to another.  That is the commandment of Jesus to us who would be his Church: to love one another as Christ, God made human, has loved us.  As Christ gives his life for others, he commands us to do the same; as Christ brings healing and peace into the lives of those he meets, he commands us to find our life’s purpose in bringing his healing and peace into the lives we touch; as Christ reveals to the world a God who loves as a father loves his children, he commands us to love one another as brothers and sisters.  Such love can be overwhelmingly demanding – but such love can be the source of incredible joy and fulfillment, no less than an experience of Easter resurrection.  


Ascension of the Lord [B]

Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” 
Mark 16: 15-20

The master chair maker

There is an African parable about two villages separated by a river.  In each village, there lived a woodworker who knew how to make chairs.  Both knew the secret of making strong, durable and beautiful chairs.

But the chair maker in the first village was afraid to teach others because he thought they would not make the chairs correctly — and worse, if they did, they could cut into his business.  So he jealously guarded his work.  He became suspicious of anyone with wood, worried that they may have discovered his secret.  He would ridicule them and warn them not to try and make a chair themselves.  So he made all the chairs in the village, but no one wanted to go near him.  The young men of the village interested in woodworking left the village rather than ask to learn from him.  The chair maker eventually died alone — and his secret with him.

But the chair maker in the second village did not keep his knowledge to himself.  He helped anyone who asked what wood to use, how to plane and cut the pieces, how to mix the glue to assemble the pieces.  Over the years, many of the young men of the village served as his apprentices.  Sometimes one of them would discover a way to improve the chair.  The master chair maker would encourage the apprentice to show what he discovered to others.  As a result, the chairs in the village kept getting better and better.  People from other villages would come and buy their excellent chairs — and soon tables and benches he and his apprentices began to make. 

When people praised the master chair maker’s work, he would laugh and say, “I did not build these chairs alone.  These young men have improved my chairs.  I am getting old, but these young men will continue building better and better chairs.  I have given my skills and knowledge to them and they have given their love and friendship to me.  Together we have done far more than if I had worked alone.”

[Adapted from Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Wisdom and Joy, compiled by Joseph G. Healey.]

This old African story of the generous chair maker mirrors the meaning of today’s celebration of the Lord’s Ascension.  Today, Jesus the master “chair maker,” who has taught his disciples the “secrets” of “making” God’s kingdom of reconciliation and peace, now turns the work over to us.  On this day, Jesus calls us to continue his work — work that has been vindicated and perfected in the Father’s raising him from the dead.  We who have seen and heard the story of Jesus are now called to bring that hope into the lives of others and into the life we share as families, as the Church, as the human community.  In every kindness we offer, in every word of encouragement and comfort we utter, in every moment we spend listening and supporting, we proclaim the Gospel of the Risen Jesus; every good work — however small or hidden — is a sign of Christ in our midst.  


Seventh Sunday of Easter [B]

“Consecrate them in the truth.”
John 17: 11b-19

Applied psychology

As the college student rang the doorbell and delivered the pizza, the man who answered growled, “What’s the usual tip?”

“Well, sir,” the student replied, “this is my first delivery, but the other guys said that if I got a dollar out of you, I’d be doing great.”

“That so?” grunted the customer.  “Well, in that case, here’s ten bucks.”

“Thank you, sir,” the grateful student said, taking the bill.  “This will be a big help at school.”

“By the way,” the customer asked, “what are you studying?”

“Applied psychology.”

This psychology student has learned not just to see what people do but why they do it — and what will make them act differently.  Jesus, in today’s Gospel, prays that we will do the same.  He calls us to see the truth in its totality — not just to recognize a series of facts but to understand how those facts connect to reveal reality and truth.  Truth can be very difficult to face and accept: resorting to obfuscation, rationalization and denial are much easier than facing the truth about our beliefs, our attitudes, our values, our dreams.  The Risen Christ challenges us not to approach truth in terms of wins and losses or of power or of the comfort of convention, but to approach truth as where and how God is present in our lives and our world.   To be a person of authentic faith means to face and seek out the truth — regardless of our doubts and cynicism and fear.  To be “consecrated in the truth” begins with embracing the Spirit of God: the wisdom, the wholeness, the love of God who is the first and last and constant reality.  


Pentecost  [B]

”Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?  Then how does each of us hear them in his native language . . . ?  We hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
Acts 2: 1-11

It’s us against a particle of death . . .

Will and Maggie have a secret language.  It’s a language that has evolved over time.  It’s a language that transcends the couple’s everyday squabbles, distractions and differences in personality and perspective.  It’s a language grown out of desperation and love.  Maggie explains how this “language” works:

“We were on a bus recently with our three children.  It was late, it was snowing, everyone was tired and the bus was crowded.  I was squeezed on one seat with my two youngest children.  Will and our eldest were strap-hanging in the aisle.

“From behind us came a noise: a crackling, rustling, splitting, then a specific crunch-crunch-crunch.  My head spun around my neck, as did Will’s.  We took in our fellow passenger and his snack for a split second before I shot from my seat, hustling my daughters ahead of me, locking eyes with Will.

“And so began our wordless conversation.

“He tilted his head, meaning, Is that person eating nuts in the same airspace as our daughter?

“I narrowed my eyes, which meant, Yes, I’m afraid so.

“He frowned, to say, Don’t let her breathe in until we get off the bus.

“I shrugged, implying, Don’t worry, I won’t.

“We ushered our baffled, uncomprehending children off the bus and into the snow, miles from home.

“I realize this sounds like a deranged thing to do, so let me explain.  When our middle daughter was quite young, we learned that she had an immune disorder . . . Just the inhalation of a single particle of nut dust could kill her within 10 minutes.  Life, for her, is a series of dangers, strung together, one after another, like beads on a thread . . .

“Will and I must constantly be thinking about how best to protect her — as well as trying to minimize the impact of her condition on her siblings . . . There is a sense of solidarity between us on this one issue.  We never argue about how best to take care of our daughter, not because we always agree — far from it — but because we know we need to channel every atom of energy into protecting her and her siblings. 

“When it counts — when it’s a situation of life or death — all that stuff and strife is forgotten.  The secret code kicks in, and I know one thing:  He and I will stand, teeth bared, between death and our daughter, unquestionably united, saying, Get back, get away.  You’re not having her.  Not today.  Not tomorrow.  Not any time soon.”

[From “Modern Love: ‘It’s Us Against a Particle of Dust’” by Maggie O’Farrell, The New York Times, March 9, 2018.]

Maggie and Will “speak” the language of the Spirit of God, the “language” that collapses disagreements and dissolves self-interests for the sake of a loved one.  In their fierce protection of the daughter, God’s Spirit enables them to “speak” to one another in the “language” of compassion and care for the good of their children.  As the Spirit overcomes the barriers of language and perception to open up the hearts and minds of Peter’s listeners on that first Pentecost, that same Spirit “blows” through our own homes and families enabling us to speak and hear God’s language of mercy and forgiveness in our love and care for one another.  The gift of Pentecost faith enables us to hear the voice of God speaking in the midst of the clamor and busyness, the pain and despair of our everyday lives, inviting us to embrace the life and love of God in our homes and hearts.  


The Most Holy Trinity [B]

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Matthew 28: 16-20

“ . . . when God is in it.”

A Quaker pastor remembers the insight he learned from a woman who was part of the meeting he once pastored:

“[This] elderly woman had committed herself to works of mercy.  As I got to know her better, I was astounded at the many ways in which she had blessed hurting people.  Though her income was modest, she lived simply so she could give generously.  Though her many commitments kept her calendar full, she still found time to be present for those who needed comfort.  The longer I knew her, the more I marveled at her charity, given the scarcity of her resources.  Because of her humility, she was reluctant to talk with others about her own accomplishments.  But one day she let slip the principle that guided her life, when she said to me, ‘Little is much when God is in it.’

“I have thought of that many times since, appreciating its truth more and more as the years pass.  Little does become much when love is present.  Love does magnify our works.  Jesus knew this.  He knew even the smallest gesture of love could transform the darkest situation and so fully committed himself to divine love that we are still awed by his life.  Believe me when I tell you this:  We can be like him, and like all the other God-bearers our world has known . . . We can be like him when we say yes to the Divine Presence that is also in us, as thoroughly as we are able.  As we do that, our lives, and the lives of others, will be transformed.  God’s joy will be in us, and our joy will be full.”

[From The Evolution of Faith: How God Is Creating a Better Christianity by Philip Gulley.]

Today’s solemnity of the Holy Trinity celebrates the many ways God makes his presence known in our lives, in the manifestations of his love in our lives and our world.  This Sunday of the Trinity invites us to look with a new awareness to behold God in our midst: God is the Father and Creator of all life, including our very selves, who fashions every molecule and atom that nurtures and sustains our lives; God is the Son and the Brother, the Redeemer who teaches us the unfathomable love of the God we seek; God is the Spirit of that love that creates and enables us to break out of the isolation that entraps us and become family and community.  May this Solemnity of the Trinity reawaken our senses and our consciousness to behold God’s love in our lives, making even the “little” into “much” that is holy and sacred.  


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.