Richard S. Vosko

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Christ the King Sunday – November 22, 2015 – The Illusive Kingdom of God

Christ the King Sunday – November 22, 2015 – The Illusive Kingdom of God

Click here for today’s scriptures

Building up the kingdom of God on earth is a very difficult task. In addition to the inequities and injustices that confront us in our own communities, unconventional warfare strategies on a global level have rendered prospects for world peace almost inconceivable.

Human history, of course, is full of conflict and war. From biblical times up to now the battle for power, wealth and natural resources as well as domination over innocent people, have been unwanted staples of life.  Pope Pius XI established today’s feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, at a time of great global turmoil and tumultuous shifts in the governance of countries. The pope himself was a prisoner in the Vatican because the Kingdom of Italy invaded and dismantled the papal states.

Pius XI in part sought to subject secular leaders to the divine initiative and authority of God. Some commentators say he also wanted to free the church from civic domination, alleviate the anti-clericalism that was rampant in Europe and restore the right of the church to govern people in matters pertaining to salvation. That may have been a “medieval way of thinking.” What does the feast mean for us today?

In this morning’s gospel, attributed to John, we find Jesus being questioned by a government official about his alleged royal status. This was a claim that would have been considered a threat to the Roman Empire.

However, Jesus of Nazareth was not interested in calling himself a king anymore than he was intent on starting a new religion. He was a humble itinerant Jewish teacher. Like many other women and men in history Jesus prophetically offered an alternative way of living based on caring relationships and mutual love.

For Jesus, people were not objects in a political, geographical or even a religious kingdom. Rather, because human beings are created as the image of God, there can be no structured boundaries, xenophobic laws or religious prejudices that deny people access to the realm of God.

We must be cautious, however, not to boast that our brand of Christianity is better than the other faiths practiced on this planet. Our doctrines do not constitute the only lock and key combination to achieve wholesome, dignified relationships with others. What matters is that we respect people of other faiths and work with them to achieve peace.

Our belief system is not based on power or wealth nor on arrogance or acquiescence. Our scriptural base prompts uncompromising love for ourselves and for others who, although different in color and creed, race and region, are also members of God’s fragile family.

This fundamental option, to treat one another fairly, is what prompted members of our parish to lobby with other citizens for a fair wage last week. Our compassion for others also encourages us to take tags from our Giving Trees and to continue to support our food pantry and other ministries.

Also, donations to the Campaign for Human Development today will help create local and global initiatives to fund housing, education and the development of job opportunities.

Establishing powerful kingdoms, nation states or caliphates on earth that suppress and destroy human beings is immoral. To employ a rhetoric of fear that could deprive desperate and innocent people the opportunity to seek refuge is reprehensible.

In 1943 ten Norwegians risked their lives to thwart a Nazi nuclear bomb project. On the base of a statue honoring 96 year old Joachim Ronneberg it reads: “Peace and Freedom are not to be taken for granted.” In a recent interview Ronneberg worried that there is still a reluctance to understand “it is not a stable world and that peace is not guaranteed.”

By celebrating this feast of Christ the King of the Universe we are saying to ourselves and to the world there are alternative paths to freedom and peace. By maintaining our belief that God has entrusted us to care for one other and our planet we can continue to build up the kingdom of God here on earth.


Homily – 8 November 2015 – Stand Up For A Living Wage in NYS

32 OTB – 8 November 2015 – Stand Up For A Living Wage in NYS

Photo by Mick Hales

Photo by Mick Hales

Click here for today’s scriptures

About 45 years ago a mentor of mine and I went on a tour of utopian communes. We wanted to learn why certain communities got started and who belonged to them. After a week of staying with a number of diverse groups we sought out more familiar places like New Skete in Cambridge and the Bruderhof in Rifton.

Our last stop was the Catholic Worker farm in in Tivoli, New York. As many of you know, the Catholic Worker Movement was founded in 1933 by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day, whose birthday is today (1897-1980). The farm, once known as Rose Hill, was one of many places on the East coast where someone could find free food and shelter.

According to historian Audrey H. Cole, the Movement was a peculiar blend of anarchism, communism and Christianity. The idea was that people who had much should accept a degree of poverty and share their goods with those who had very little. [1] Being able to “see Christ in others” one could strive toward goodness.

Day was the editor of the Movement’s newspaper The Catholic Worker She used the medium to criticize corporations, call attention to racial inequality, encourage labor strikes and condemn war. Richard Rohr described Day as a woman who could not be silenced. During her life she did not want to be called a saint. Now many are promoting her cause.

This parish chose Dorothy Day to be one of the new icons in our church. You can almost hear her protest: “We must cry out against injustice or by our silence consent to it. If we keep silent, the very stones of the street will cry out.” [2]

There are many women who give of themselves unselfishly for the good of others. There are mothers, grandmothers and aunts, sisters and daughters, who nurture family members. There are activists in the public sphere, women who take risks to challenge institutions and cultures that cling to age old anachronisms. And, there are the two unnamed women in today’s biblical texts who gave to others not what was left over from their meager possessions but from all they had.

In the first reading the woman was worried that she would have nothing left to eat for herself and her son if she shared her goods with Elijah. He encouraged her to trust; God would not forsake her.

In the gospel the author tells the story where Jesus criticizes the scribes, chief priests and elders who roamed the Temple. These experts in Mosaic Law, who dressed in fancy cloaks of piety, had too much power and influence over the daily lives of the citizens of that society. [3]

Jesus, in a crafty way, draws attention to their acts of injustice through the story of the widowed woman. She too trusts that God will not abandon her in her poverty. Trust in God? I am not so sure we do that today even though our currency says we do. How many of us would take all of our savings and give it to others trusting that God will take care of us?

What we are being asked to do is to find some way to use some of our resources to help those who have little or nothing. There are many ways to do so. Here is one invitation.

Next Tuesday, November 10th, Faith for a Fair New York will join a nationwide day of action to strike down income inequality in the workplace. There will be local rallies in the Capitol at Noon and on the West Capitol Lawn at 5:30 PM. Join us in the fight for a living wage. Information about leaving from our parking lot is in this weekend’s parish Bulletin.

According to the 2015 Report on Inclusive Prosperity, “Firms in the US have been profit- able, but their success increasingly translates into income for shareholders and top management, not for employees. It is, therefore, entirely understandable that middle-class families feel that something is amiss when companies are profitable but wages are stagnant.”

If Dorothy Day were to join us she would say, “The stand we are taking is not on the grounds of wages and hours and conditions of labor, but on the fundamental truth that people should be treated not as chattels [property], but as human beings.” [4]

Her tireless cry for dignity and the witness of the two biblical women beckon us to take action. As we look at the icon of Dorothy Day we see that she is looking back at us … wondering what will we do.


  1. Cole Audrey. “The Catholic Worker Farm: Tivoli, New York 1964-1978” In the Hudson Valley Regional Review. Vol. VIII, No. 1, (March, 1991), 26
  2.  Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg, Dorothy Day, Selected Writings: By Little and by Little (Orbis Books: 1992), 273.
  3.  Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 194
  4.  Day, Dorothy. House of Hospitality. (NY: Sheed & Ward, 1939) Chapter 8, 4


Homily – 1 November 2015 – Holy Things For Holy People

 All Saints Day – 1 November 2015 – Holy Things For Holy People

Click here for today’s scriptures

A couple of weeks ago I went to the birthday celebration of my 7-year old grand niece, Charlotte. She appeared at the party venue (Darlings and Divas!) all dressed up as Mal from Disney’s TV movie “Descendants.” This was way over my head. I needed to know more about the movie and the costume she wore.

In the movie Ben, the good teenage son of the King and Queen, takes the throne and offers a chance of redemption to teenagers. Mal, Evie, Carlos and Jay were poised to follow in the footsteps of their bad parents.

But something happened. These siblings, who grew up surrounded by evil, started to hang out with children of goodness. Soon, they became focussed on self-confidence, personal responsibility and teamwork. They learned they did not have to grow up to be bad.

I thought my niece wanted to associate with bad players. Instead, by dressing up like Mal, my niece was advocating (in my theological mind anyway) conversion, transformation and redemption. I am sure none of this crossed even her wild imagination. Charlotte just wanted to be cool!

The gospel today lists a few of the eighty beatitudes that are sprinkled throughout the bible. This text was written long after Jesus lived. It was a time when a small number of powerful and wealthy families were ruling society. They were supported by bureaucrats, a mighty military and self-serving priests. They were not the good guys in this story. 

Each of the beatitudes falls into two parts. The first part describes the humiliation of the present, the second the glory to come. Jesus, always looking to turn things around, was quoted in this Great Sermon as paying attention to powerless people, outcasts and others living on the fringes of the community, who were just trying to make ends meet. [1]

The word “blessed” in Greek is “makarios” and can also mean “happy” or “fortunate.” It may describe someone who is in a fortunate position because they were recipients of God’s provisions or favors. “Highly esteemed” or “honored” is another way to think of the word. [2] High esteemed are those who are merciful for they will be shown mercy (by God).

By announcing these beatitudes or favors Jesus brought a fresh interpretation to worn out teachings. This is something that wise spiritual leaders do every so often once they learn from their members or followers that certain beliefs or customs no longer provide adequate sustenance for living. 

As Pope Francis remarked about the Synod on the Family, “It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.” [3]

Too many people are struggling to survive on this planet near and far. Whether fighting for a dignified minimum wage in this country or seeking refuge in other lands many are not happy and do not feel blessed by God. As long as goodness and mercy are replaced by “blinkered viewpoints” they will never experience God’s fortunes and provisions.

Today, All Saints Day, comes in between Halloween and the Day of the Dead. It is a triduum that reminds us life is complicated, full of fears and happiness at the same time. We put on masks and costumes to scare away what is bad. We dream of a happy endings for ourselves, perhaps surrounded by angels and saints. We invoke help from our deceased spiritual ancestors who have endured this journey before us. 

Living and dying, successes and sufferings, are part of the same human story that cries out for mercy and compassion. Life requires a constant eye to reform governments, societies, religions or any system that deprives people from experiencing God’s free blessings and favors.

The icons in our church are looking at us, reminding us that we are not alone and that we, too, are holy ones. We belong, in a mysterious and holy way, to an exemplary family of men and women, saints and sinners, who, by their faith and good works, have contributed to the common good.

My great niece, Charlotte, and her little friends seem to grasp in a very young and playful way that being good is much better than being bad. Highly esteemed and happy are these little peacemakers, all children of God. They hunger and thirst for peace and justice in the world. With our help they shall be satisfied.


  1.  Duling, Dennis in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, page 1667
  2.  Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 1995, 28-30
  3.  Pope Francis. “The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy.” Vatican City, 24 October 2015 (VIS) 


Homily – 18 October 2015 – Missions Impossible?

Twenty-ninth Sunday In Ordinary Time – Missions Impossible?

Click here for today’s scriptures

I wonder what the interfaith leaders at the World Parliament of Religions (Salt Lake City) might have to say about this text. The Parliament, with its thousands of participants from diverse faith traditions, seem to be of one accord in its attempts to resolve problems that affect all of us, for example, women’s rights, income inequality and several others.

I wonder what the bishops at the Synod on the Family (Rome) might have to say about this text. There appears to be much less agreement among the bishops especially regarding same sex marriage and divorce, which are only two of the many topics being considered in Rome.

Created as part of Vatican Two reforms by Pope Paul VI the Synod is mandated to read the signs of the times and find fresh ways to interpret the teachings of the Church. Pope Francis is calling for mercy in every instance. Some bishops, not happy with this more pastoral approach, are looking to strengthen existing doctrines. Can our church apply a one size fits all solution for 1.2 billion Catholics living in diverse cultures?

To resolve the issues being discussed at both gatherings seems to be an impossible mission. Today, World Mission Sunday, offers a small window of opportunity to think about the complexity of the problems around the world. Just to be aware of these situations is a good first step for us even before trying to figure out what to do about them.

The discussion in today’s gospel, between Jesus and two of his earliest missionaries, is provocative. For the third time Jesus was explaining that death awaits him, that the road to glory is not easy, that hard work and endurance are essential. To be a missionary of Christ you have to give something up.

However, the apostles did not comprehend what Jesus was talking about. They were confident that he was the messiah, who would atone for all the sins of the world. Scholars generally agree that the understanding of Jesus as a suffering servant is a reference to the prophecies attributed to Isaiah. Also, the Letter to the Hebrews, which we read today, presents Jesus as a high priest who, like Old Testament priests, would atone for sins. But, Jesus was a layman.

Thinking that Jesus is the savior and that there was nothing left for them to do the disciples negotiated with him about who would have a lofty place in heaven, without doing any heavy lifting. More exasperating they apparently were not at all concerned about the other disciples. [1]

Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, would say “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” Jesus rebuked his disciples who wanted special favors, “can you handle the work load first?” “Can you drink from the same cup I am?”

What does that question mean for us? Pope Francis reminds us: “Those who follow Christ cannot fail to be missionaries.” Maybe we join local coalitions working for justice. Maybe we help agencies who assist poor people. Maybe we take a closer look at our diocesan and parish budgets and our priorities. Maybe each of us chooses to do something, large or small, to make a difference in the lives of others.

Learning to be a 21st century missionary is a hard thing to do especially for those among us who struggle with daily necessities. Popular author, Marylynne Anderson, wrote recently, Christianity is meant to be hard. We realize then why these familiar biblical challenges, the Words of God, are important to our faith tradition. No mission on earth is impossible when we work together for the common good.

Pope Paul VI wrote, “The grace of renewal cannot grow in communities unless each of these [communities] extends the range of its charity to the ends of the earth, and devotes the same care to those afar off as it does to those who are its own members.”

Watching those televised images of refugee families fleeing their countries in search of new life is overwhelming. I think of the small children in my family and how blessed we are to live in a country that is free and full of opportunity.

I do not know what I can do to ease all the pain that exists abroad. I am more aware, however, that large numbers of God’s creatures are vulnerable and poor while only a few humans have way too much power and wealth. I am grateful for the leaders and missionaries of all faiths doing what they can do to help people in a merciful way. I am thankful for this chance to think about my responsibilities as well.


1. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 166 ff.


Homily – 11 October 2015 – We Will Not Be Bystanders

Twenty-eight Sunday in Ordinary Time – We Will Not Be Bystanders

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Last week Citizen Action of New York celebrated the efforts of different social activists. Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard was honored for his advocacy for poor and disadvantaged people. A group of fast food workers — teens, single parents, retirees — were commended for going on strike, lobbying the NYS Wage Board, fighting for $15.00 an hour salaries. In another recent event, parishioner B. J. Costello was honored for years of advocacy at The Next Step, an addiction treatment center for women.

Today is the feast day of Pope John XXIII. We remember him in our collection of icons. In his encyclical on human rights (Pacem in Terris, 1963, 11) the pope wrote that human beings have the right to bodily integrity and to the means required for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest and necessary social services.

Advocating for human rights is an age old practice in all faith traditions. To think that people of faith are not engaged in the political sphere is to misunderstand the role religions played throughout world history. While subject to scrutiny, what a religion teaches regarding human dignity and moral development most certainly will have political as well as personal implications.

In today’s gospel, as in last week’s passage on divorce, there is another significant challenge. How does one get into heaven? There are diverse views on what the word “heaven” means so let’s imagine for now it is that ideal time and place where all creatures live in harmony.

Jesus shocked the wealthy man when he announced that following the commandments is not good enough to merit eternal life. You have to sell everything you have. The gospel also notes that Jesus loved the young man who apparently really wanted to follow the messiah. He just could not bring himself to leave behind his riches.

The words “sell what you have” at that time referred to leaving family, home and land. Also one scholar noted the word “rich” in the Mediterranean culture was strangely synonymous with the word “greedy.” The rich man’s problem was not that he was rich but greedy! [1]

This gospel does not set up a debate between socialism and capitalism. Ideologically those concepts did not exist back then exactly as we understand them today. In fact, a closer reading of this gospel suggests it is not necessary to renounce all material things to have eternal peace or peace of mind. [2] Jesus was not opposed to self preservation or personal development. Rather he was speaking against income inequality and every other injustice caused by poverty. Here’s a case in point. Earlier this year Oxfam International released a report saying that the richest 1% in the world will own more than all the rest of us combined by 2016. [3] How can this incredible imbalance be addressed?

Today in our parish a panel of local advocates will address (or addressed) income inequality. [4] To ensure the common good for all God’s people we are called to be agents of God in working for justice, peace, reconciliation. Pope Francis wrote in his first apostolic exhortation: “Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor….” [5]

Perhaps the rich man in the gospel felt an “emptiness in his life.” [6] Maybe he no longer wanted to be a bystander and was looking to get involved. He thought he was doing OK until Jesus issued a stronger invitation to a deeper transformation that would redirect his entire way of living. The man was disappointed and perhaps even chagrined.

So, what gets us into heaven? Discipleship. This gospel implies that salvation for all people is real when we commit to make a difference in the lives of others in addition to ourselves. The idea is for us to pick up where Jesus left off. To do so what do we have to leave behind or give up? Are there addictions or presuppositions that prevent us from becoming better human beings ourselves?

The deeper question for 21st Christians, it seems to me, is this. How does the promise of Jesus in this gospel resonate with our contemporary cultural instincts for gaining instant gratification or developing a sense of entitlement? In terms of ending income inequality how can we develop an attitude that helps us live within our means at the same time we embrace the needs of strangers?

The response to the challenges posed by these gospels will be personal and different. Each of us however can reflect more deeply on what discipleship means for us. We can become more informed of the problems and then search for some small way in our lives to help.

In one of our Eucharistic Prayers (Masses for Various Needs IV) we ask God to “open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters; to inspire us in words and actions to comfort those who labor and are burdened.” In that prayer we also thank God for walking with us on our journeys of life. With trust in God  we can find ways to join hands with one another along the way. It makes the road to heaven a heck of a lot easier to travel.


1. Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 1996, 148-150.

2. Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Third Edition (Collegevile: Liturgical Press) 2006. pp. 357-9


4. The panel discussion was held between our two liturgies

5. Pope Francis. “Evangelii Gaudium” (Vatican City Rome 24 November 2013, #187)

6. Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 161 ff.


Homily – October 4, 2015 – Respect Life … All of It

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – October 4, 2015 – Respect Life … All of It

Click here for today’s scripture readings

Both our church and civic calendars today draw attention to similar concerns: respect for life, opposition to domestic violence and keeping the memory of St. Francis of Assisi alive. (Francis is one of the eight newly written icons in St. Vincent de Paul church)

The gospel is a counter cultural challenge to marriage as it is experienced in this country. That the divorce rate in the United States has been declining over the past thirty years is no consolation to men and women whose marriages have ended in divorce.

Further, for divorced Catholics, the thought of remarrying without an annulment can create anxieties with regard to their participation in the life of their church. The strong language attributed to Jesus in today’s gospel requires a careful reading. What was the cultural context within which he is quoted?

Jesus was responding to a test from the Pharisees. He referred to the Law of Moses which allowed divorces based on the initiative of the husband (Deut. 24:1). According to biblical scholarship Jesus actually sought to raise the social status of women and protect their rights from an unjust culture slanted toward the pleasure of the man. (Remember women were considered to be the “property” of the man.) In doing so he was reestablishing the original creative act of God, calling for harmonious relationships or an indivisible union of mutual companionship. [1]

From the Mediterranean cultural perspective, whenever a divorce occurred the men in that society were shamed and dishonored including the wife’s father, brothers, or other significant men in her family. “Hence the basic purpose of the commandments in ancient Israel was to head off feuding which led to bloodshed. The idea was to maintain internal societal harmony and stability.” [2]

According to scripture scholar Brendan Byrne it is not helpful to dwell on what is apparently prohibited in this gospel but on what it commends — marriage between two people is the “most intimate expression of a commitment, companionship and intimacy embracing the totality of life.” As the first reading reminds us it is not good for anyone to go it alone.

And there is something else. Jesus did not use his insight into God’s original purpose of marriage as a way of punishing people. Many have wondered about the penalties that a religion like ours imposes upon our own members who, in good conscience, are seeking spiritual sustenance and support when they need it most. Often it is a moment when it is clear that their best marital intentions are not working out and it is time to move forward.

Just maybe the “New Testament grants to the Church the authority to make concessions that are pastorally necessary” without entirely compromising traditional teachings. [3] That’s what Jesus was doing in this gospel — “acting as a merciful healer.” [4] It seems to be the way Pope Francis acts.

The recent papal authorization to speed the annulment process is encouraging. The final results of the Synod on the Family, which began this morning in Rome, will be published in due time.

The report undoubtedly will tell us more regarding the institutional church’s position about the role of marriage and the family in society. Hopefully it will also outline kind and merciful ways for church ministers to help those who are struggling to develop wholesome, life giving partnerships.

One parishioner, Angela Warner who directs our food panty, reminded me that the word “divorce” is not just applied to marriage but all relationships. We ask ourselves from whom or what are we estranged because of our reluctance to form new relationships or to accept life giving cultures and practices that break down barriers and celebrate diversity? For example:

How we divorce ourselves from others because of their race, ethnicity, class, religion or language.

How relatives divorce themselves from one another over some disagreement or past grievance.

How women and girls are divorced from the opportunity to equal rights, getting an education or becoming community leaders.

How children living in poverty are divorced from their families, thrown into prostitution rings, become victims of human trafficking.

The list can be longer. I invite you to talk about it with others at home, in the dorm, in the car or at work.

Last week while Pope Francis was in Philadelphia the Global Citizen Festival was happening in Central Park, New York City. The theme? “We are not a generation of bystanders.” It is a good nudge for us to do something about mending some of the broken heartedness in our world.


1. Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 157 ff.

2. Pilch, John The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1996. pp. 142-144.

3. Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today. (Liturgical Press. 1984, Revised Edition, pp. 352-353.

4. Kaveny, Cathleen. “Mercy for the Remarried: What the Church Can Learn from Civil Law” in Commonweal, August 14, 2015, p. 15.

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Homily – 27 September 2015 – A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Homily – 27 September 2015 — A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Click here for today’s scriptures

Every so often an event happens, a person comes along, that makes us pause in our lives, to think and talk to each other about what really matters in life. The visit of Pope Francis is one of those occasions. Many of you have followed his apostolic journey and have your own comments and opinions. I am privileged to have this chance to share some of mine and how I thought of our parish as I listened to the Pope.

There is little doubt Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air. We are moved by his humble demeanor, his non disparaging speeches, his warm smile and his focus on lifting up marginalized people to dignity. For the Pope all people matter as does our common home.

The title pope is derived from the Latin word Pontifex and means bridge builder. One of this Pope’s constructive tools is a concept known as integral ecology. He puts issues of human rights, the environment and economic justice all under one umbrella. He believes that care for our fragile planet is synonymous with caring for one another. These urgent concerns require undivided attention to assure there is a future for our children and people of all ages especially often forgotten elderly persons.

In addressing Congress he reminded us that political activity must promote the common good of all persons and be based on human dignity. This activity he claimed requires a spirit of solidarity and commitment. He graciously pointed out how four well known citizens of our country took action to assure that all people regardless of sexual orientation, class, race, creed or religion could live out their dreams without fear of rash judgement, prejudice or denial of religious and personal freedoms.

The Pope reemphasized these remarks in his speech at Independence Hall on religious liberty and immigration. “It is imperative that followers of various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and respect of others.”

There is a lot for us to think about in light of these papal nudges for living in a better way. This weekend in our parish we draw upon the memory of our patron saint, Vincent de Paul. In his lifetime France had serious problems: inflation, falling wages and rising taxes. Religious divisions at that time resulted in bloody wars. It was acceptable practice for Catholics to kill Calvinists and to be openly anti-Semitic. In this context Vincent and co-worker Louis de Marillac built bridges to ease the pain especially for those who were most vulnerable.

Today we keep St. Vincent’s memory kept alive by working in the food pantry, sharing resources and love with RISSE, [1] ministering to those in prisons, hospitals and nursing homes, supporting our sister parish in Panama and innumerable unnoticed acts of kindness toward one another. Here in this parish we do our best not only when we gather to worship God but also by our cooperation with other agencies in the Capital District.

The Pope urged the United Nations General Assembly not to be satisfied with merely identifying problems, making to do lists, drawing up proposals or even writing checks. He encouraged the members to take action, to stop environmental degradation which causes human degradation. He called upon all of us to lead lifestyles that do not deprive others of the same goods and opportunities that we cherish.

In his homily at the liturgy in Madison Square Garden the Pope called  us to be purveyors of “A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others.” This afternoon our young brothers and sisters will learn about building relationships, tearing down walls that divorce people from greater opportunities in life. We imagine our youths will discuss not only those issues that they worry about but also the concerns the Pope encouraged all of us to ponder.

In the first reading today we heard how God shared the spirit given to Moses and Miriam with other people in the tribe. Moses wondered wouldn’t it be nice if all of God’s people were prophets. (The word “prophet” here does not mean someone foretelling the future. It means, rather, someone who tells it like it is.) The disciples in the gospel were not of the same mind. They were suspicious of others outside their club who were also doing good work. Jesus encouraged them to understand that good deeds are welcomed no matter who carries them out. It was an “invitation to the disciples to look away from their own distinctiveness and privilege to find goodness wherever it exists.” [2]

Jesus’ mission grew out of an apocalyptic worldview. His prophetic sharpness was derived from the seriousness of the issues at stake. This is the same agenda that Pope Francis has. The Pope said “It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same.” I think the Pope was talking to all of us — to be prophetic, to care for others, to be bridges over those troubled waters that drown people in oppression. It is a call to take action to lift the lowly up out of despair and lead them to new horizons filled with hope and mercy.


1. Refugees & Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus, Inc. is housed in St. Vincent de Paul church.

2. Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 153-155


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