Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Leave a comment

Homily – 23 October 2016 – The Times They Are A-Changin’

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time C  – October 23, 2016 – The Times They Are A-Changin’

Click here for today’s biblical texts

“Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” If they were living at the same time and in the same place Jesus just might have used lyrics from Bob Dylan’s song The Times They Are A-Changin to make his point about righteousness — Dylan wrote, “The order is rapidly fadin’ and the first one now will later be last.”

We have to be careful about the way we interpret this gospel. Just as soon as we might be quick to say “thank God I am not a hypocritical, self-righteousness braggart who denounces anyone who is not on my side; that I am instead a regular church goer who acts humbly, walks justly and lives simply,” … we get caught in the same trap as the Pharisee in the parable who congratulated himself.

Well, you might ask, what is wrong with getting credit or points for being a good disciple of Christ? Can’t I be saved for attending to the cries of poor people, welcoming outsiders, cooking for hungry children, building shelter for the homeless, making prisoners feel better? I care for the environment and our senior citizens, our homebound and sick. And, I am active in political affairs. Why can’t I boast a bit?

There is really nothing wrong with taking some credit for doing good work. After all it can compel us to study, to make progress, to contribute to the common good, to improve ourselves along the way. But does this interpretation offer the only lesson for today? Perhaps the story is not about the Pharisee or the tax collector. Let’s take a closer look.

We often think of the Pharisees as bad people. They were one of many factions at the time not unlike the people who followed Jesus. John Pilch described the Pharisees as people who practiced strict observances — prayer, fasting, almsgiving and tithing. But the text suggests that some of them were greedy, elitist and dictatorial, thinking of themselves as superior to others.

It’s easy to critique this kind of behavior in other people.  What else can we do? The icons, right here in our church, offer an answer. These women and men don’t claim anything great for themselves. The icon of St. Louise de Marillac, for example, is not about Louise but about how she responded to the needs of others. Inspired by Louise our own pastoral care ministers provide services for our parishioners who are homebound, in a nursing home, rehabilitation center or hospital. They give them spiritual support reminding them that this faith community will not forget them.

Today, Mission Sunday, offers every one of us an opportunity to focus on how God, according to the wisdom of Sirach, hears the cries of the oppressed, is not deaf to the screams of the orphan, nor to the widow when she complains. Often we think of missions as far away places served by clergy and lay persons including college students. In fact, many regions in our own nation are so-called mission territories.

I learned this past week that there are approximately 3 million people in New York State living below the federal poverty threshold ($24,250 for a family of 4). Right here in this the 20th District of our State the percentage of children under the age of 18 living in those impoverished households is 14%. These statistics remind us there is plenty of missionary work to do in our own backyards.

In the end this gospel parable says something about who God is and how God works in us and through us to advance the kin-dom here on earth. The Pharisee went off never thinking he was arrogant or in need of any divine assistance. The tax collector, however, did nothing to claim such self-righteousness. Instead, he asked for mercy. God’s mercy embraces us when we acknowledge that the gifts we receive, the accomplishments we achieve, reflect the goodness of God. We are ambassadors of God.

Let’s be alert.Things can get worse. As promoters of another way, we will not promote divisiveness, nor abide by arrogance. It’s not easy but we can be witnesses of mercy and goodness. We do not draw attention to ourselves or take credit for the overwhelming mercy of God. We can, however, continue to spread that mercy and goodness wherever we go. Why is this message so urgent? Perhaps Bob Dylan’s 1963 prophetic voice still has some merit, The Times They Are A-changin’.


Homily – 9 October 2016 – Thank You!

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time year C – 9 October 2016 – Thank You!

Click here for today’s biblical texts

That the world was flat until Columbus landed in the Caribbean is a popular but inaccurate fable. Also, there is no clear evidence that the 15th century dogmatically inclined Spanish Church enforced that idea. It was the novelist Washington Irving who created those falsehoods in 1828 in his biography about Columbus. [1] Actually Columbus simply miscalculated the vastness of the world just like probably we cannot comprehend the immeasurable magnitude of creation.

Today’s biblical texts offer us a chance to focus on the immensity of God’s presence, God’s mercy in the world. The first reading tells a story about Naaman a respected commander in Syria who had the dreaded disease leprosy. The other character in the story, Elisha the prophet, was well known not for military strength but the miracles he worked. Elisha instructs Naaman to wash in the Jordan River that straddled Syria and the land of the Israelites. The story is often linked to teachings about salvation.

At first Naaman was angry because Elisha did not personally tend to him. But, after his disciples prompted him to enter the murky waters of the Jordan he was healed.Naaman tried to give Elisha a gift to show his gratitude. Elisha, a good not-for-profit servant of God, refused the gift. Naaman who believed that God only worked salvific wonders within the borders of Israel asked Elisha if he could bring dirt from the land of the Israelites into Syria to spread the power of God. Perhaps the unknown author of the second reading had this tale in mind when writing that the word of God cannot be chained.

The gospel continues the thread with the story about the lepers who were washed clean due to the initiative and action of Jesus of Nazareth. The message in this story, however, shifts slightly away from the messianic work of salvation to one of gratitude. Only one leper came back to say “thanks” to Jesus and he was a Samaritan, a dreaded enemy of the Jews. Once again, the message is that God’s mercy is borderless. 

These stories help us think of ways to spread God’s mercy by crossing borders to help people confined by visible and invisible barriers that prevent them from living peaceful wholesome lives. They also remind you and me to be grateful for the mercy of God made present in our ministries.

We give thanks for the volunteers who visit inmates in area prisons to bring them a spirit of care and the word of God. We are grateful for those who visit sick and dying persons in our hospitals to offer them comfort and hope. We give thanks for those who work in our food pantry every week to stock goods and serve guests who, otherwise, would go without supplies to nourish themselves and their families. 

We are grateful for those who haunt the halls of our Capitol reminding elected officials to erase laws that discount and dishonor people living on the fringes of life; to create laws that treat everyone fairly. And, we are grateful for each member of our families, children and adults, who teach each other what matters most. 

There are many borders that limit the experience of God. We Christians join members of other faith traditions to tear down barriers and to spread the mercy God everywhere like Naaman, Elisha and Jesus did. And we do so without expecting thanks or rewards. 

On the other hand we are mindful of how important it is for us to be grateful for what we have in life. The eucharistic prayer at every Mass is our premier utterance of thanksgiving. We proclaim it to remember and embrace the life of Jesus and to join Christ in thanking God who loves the human race and continues to walk with us wherever we go.


  1.  Irving, Washington. A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus.

1 Comment

Homily 2 October 2016 “Loyalty Costs”

27 Sunday in Ordinary Time C – October 2, 2016 – Loyalty Costs

Click here for today’s biblical texts

The other night the commentary at the beginning of a football game caught my attention. I heard the announcer of the Washington-Stanford game say “the faithful have been waiting” for their teams to take the field. The “faithful?” It is no news that sports fans are incredibly loyal to their favorite teams. Diehard fans are upset that the NY Yankees did not make the playoffs but it probably will not change their loyalty to the team.

Loyalty is a big topic today in the world of business. Most shoppers are loyal to certain products, stores, airlines. And, we expect to be rewarded for our loyalties. We also hear and read a lot about companies who are not loyal to their customers or to their hard working employees.

How about loyalty when it comes to religion? A recent study from the Public Religion Research Institute reports on why people leave their childhood churches. The number one explanation from all respondents was a lack of belief in the teachings of their religion (60%). Young adults (ages18-29) were more specific. They said they are unaffiliated because of negative teachings in their churches especially about gays, lesbians and transgendered people. Justice is obviously an issue for that age group.

Today’s biblical texts raise questions about faith. Commentators say the word faith can be understood as steadfast loyalty, trust, commitment to something or someone even though there are no dividends, no rewards, to be paid out. Jesus teaches this lesson with a story about a slave and the head of a household. The parable sounds kind of harsh and implies that servants should not expect any big reward for doing what was expected of them. The same goes for us. Just do it!

Most Christians believe Jesus was a mentor. He showed people how to live, how to behave toward others, especially those who are estranged from society in some way. Actually, Jesus was a “faction founder” according to John Pilch. He built up a following of men and women and expected loyalty from them. The disciples apparently had a very difficult time saying no to him even though they did not completely understand who he was or what his intentions were. Perhaps they were recalling Psalm 95, “if today you hear God’s voice harden not your hearts.”

Christians who do respond to God’s call are not-for-profit loyalists. We do what we are suppose to do without expecting anything in return. But as far as institutional religion is concerned loyalty has to work both ways. On one hand, the church, meaning all baptized members, is expected to be loyal to the mission and message of Jesus of Nazareth. This makes it hard in trying to understand, much less defend, the many rules exercised by Christian churches that exclude people from the very life of the church.

Loyalty to the teachings of Jesus is what membership in the church is all about. So why are people leaving organized religions? Is it like giving up on a team that is losing? Not necessarily so. Those who leave say they still have faith and believe in God. It’s just that their religion, that has become more and more institutionalized over centuries, does not seem to practice the mercy and justice toward all people like Jesus did.

According to Stephen Mattson Jesus was more complex than we give him credit for. He intentionally, purposefully, and passionately addressed the diverse and complicated conflicts of he time. He shattered the status quo. Jesus was helping those who were being abused, violated, and oppressed. Mattson wrote that these causes are actually an important part of the gospel message. It is not about being liberal or conservative. It is about what it takes to be a follower of Christ.

Although some church rules are harsh we can be loyal disciples of Christ in many ways. We can care for our families, partners, spouses, children no matter how they behave. We can be counted on to work hard to take care of ourselves and to help others get by. We can be loyal in the public square taking action to erase injustices. We can do many things to be very helpful in life. What we do know, however, is that loyalty and discipleship does not come without a cost.


Homily – 31 July 2016 – Closing the Gaps

Favela in Morumbi Sao Paulo Brazil right next to a wealthy neighborhood

Favela in Morumbi Sao Paulo Brazil right next to a wealthy neighborhood









18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 31 July 2016 – Closing the Gaps

Click here for today’s scriptures

Comedian Steve Wright once quipped, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” It would be easy to interpret this gospel as a bit of wisdom about hoarding goods or decluttering our lives. One could also say it is about giving to others from our abundance. That typical commentary would not do justice to the deep seated message in this gospel. 

Upon closer look this story about the wealthy landowner has to do with something else that defies generalized interpretations. Being attentive to the needs of others, in light of the ways in which we live, requires a more challenging investigation of this text. How might we act in light of it?

Today’s gospel is an example of someone who, somewhere along the way, was misguided. He thought that by piling up riches he would be happy. In short order, God said to the rich man, you are foolish to stockpile things that do not really matter in the big picture.

Lutheran theologian from Camaroon, Elisabeth Johnson, wrote that this gospel asks us to think about how our lives are fundamentally aligned — toward ourselves and our passing desires, or toward God and our neighbor? What should the wealthy landowner have done? “The same thing anyone else in that position should have done: distribute the surplus to others, immediately.” So says, John Pilch

I think there is more, too. This biblical text is not only about sharing financial resources or getting rid of stuff to make room for what really matters in our lives. Each of us also has an abundance of knowledge and particular gifts which are often far more valuable than money. Giving to others generously requires careful, persistent evaluation.  What is it that I have that others need? 

The passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes urges us to take delight in what we have and, in light of our pledges to one another and our covenant with God, not to overlook what others need.  

Let’s take a moment now to think of the abundance that exists in any area of our lives — financial, talent, time, material goods. What is it that we might share with others? Let’s name it to ourselves. 

Now imagine what would happen to us if we shared our resources to the point that our own lifestyles would be transformed!


Homily – 24 July 2016 – I Pledge to Open Closed Doors

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 24, 2016 — I Pledge to Open Closed Doors

Click here for today’s scriptures

On December 8, 2015, Pope Francis pushed open the enormous bronze doors of St. Peter’s Basilica to launch a Jubilee Year of Mercy. Walking through a Holy Door is symbolic of taking an “extraordinary step” toward salvation.

Today’s readings offer you and me promises and expectations. We count on both to open doors where walls still exist for many people. God promises presence, that is, to hear our needs: ask and you will receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the doors will open for you. We, in turn, commit ourselves to look out for one another, to provide food, and to forgive as we are forgiven. In this way we can deliver the world from evil.

Biblical scholar Meda Stamper writes the [Lord’s] prayer serves as an affirmation of the worldview Jesus teaches … and, it suggests, how the good news might be made manifest in us, through us. [1]

Brendan Byrne adds, the community that saysthe Lord’s prayer sees itself as a “beachhead of the kingdom in the present world, reclaiming it [the kingdom] for life and humanity.” [2] A beachhead is a foothold — a first achievement that opens the way for further developments.

This week we commemorate the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990). Think of the hospitality and dignity expressed when people with wheelchairs and walkers find electronic doors or accessible ramps to welcome them. Imagine people who are deaf who can count on assistive listening devices wherever they go. See visually impaired people navigate sidewalks, corridors and entryways identified with Braille and other raised markings.

Acknowledging and responding to people’s needs can change laws, regulations, even doctrines that no longer make sense or serve the common good. For Pope Francis mercy is known through concrete actions that notice the needs of others; they trump moralizing and casting judgment against others. 

One of the prickly questions for our nation, especially during this draining presidential campaign, is how will either party platform open doors for immigrants, refugees, unemployed parents, veterans, hungry and homeless children.

One of the nagging questions for religious people, especially during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, is how will our church open doors for women, divorced and remarried persons (without an annulment) and the LGBTQ community.

David Brooks was describing what we might call “a kingdom on earth as it is in heaven” when he wrote: “We need to be more communal in an age that’s overly individualistic … to be more morally minded in an age that’s overly utilitarian … to be more spiritually literate in an age that’s overly materialistic … to be more emotionally intelligent in an age that is overly cognitive. [3]

That is good advice for both church and state. While the summer months provide a chance to change our pace, to break from routine we acknowledge there is no vacation for God or for us, partners in the process of salvation. The kingdom is not something that might be waiting for us at the end of our lives. Rather it is something we are called to seek and share everyday. 

To that end we remember the pledges I proposed these past four weeks — to speak the word of God fearlessly, to love enemies as well as friends, and above all, to be kind as we open every door that has been slammed shut.


  1.  Meda Stamper in
  2.  Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 104-105
  3.  Brooks, David “Let’s Have a Better Culture War” in The New York Times. June 7, 2016


Homily – 17 July 2016 – I Pledge to Be a Kind Prophet

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time C – July 17, 2016 – I Pledge To Be a Kind Prophet

Click here for today’s scriptures

Last weekend one of our young servers, Anaya Zullo [1], whispered into my ear, “Do we know who our new girl leader is yet?” I smiled. No, not yet.  We are waiting for an announcement from the Bishop. Years ago Anaya’s question would have been unthinkable. We would have wondered what male priest would be the new pastor.

Today’s gospel is just in time. It provides an opportunity to explore the role of women in the life of Jesus — women as prophets, leaders, models of hospitality — in society and in the earliest churches. The Martha and Mary story is routinely used to compare a contemplative, inquisitive Mary to Martha a multi-tasking homeowner who worries a lot. 

Jesus said Mary chose the better part? Does it have to be an either/or choice? Can we be spiritual beings at the same time we minister publicly to those in need? In biblical scholar Mary Rose D’Angelo‘s interpretation it is a story about the challenges of partnership in ministry.  

Mary and Martha were women well known among early Christians, perhaps as missionaries, but certainly as leaders. [2] Jesus was pointing out to them and the author of this text, for us, that sometimes we need to re-examine our priorities. What is most important? What can be let go for the sake of our ministries among one another.

Although church hierarchies have overlooked the extensive scholarship about the leadership roles of women in early Christian movements, there are occasional glimpses of change. Just recently Pope Francis called for yet another study of the ordination of women to the diaconate, research that has been done over and over again. Maybe, this, time, something new will emerge.

The Greek word for Martha’s “busy-ness” in the kitchen is “diakonia,” a word also used to describe Christian ministry. Brendan Byrne asks, how can we avoid distractions in our lives that may divert our attention away what really matters — true hospitality attends to what our guests want. [3]  This same message is found in the first reading where Abraham and Sarah shared responsibilities in showing hospitality toward strangers.

A good example of women as models of mercy is the 5th Annual “Nuns on the Bus” tour that is focussing on society’s gaps. [4] That tour will visit both Republican and Democratic conventions and will stop also in Albany this coming Thursday, July 21st. Some will respond that religious leaders should stay out of politics. However, any institution that cares about how customs, cultural attitudes and laws affect the lives of all citizens is bound to take action in the public sphere.

Margaret Susan Thompson wrote that American women religious “have been involved in politics since the early days of the republic … a remarkable fact since, for the first century or more of their presence, they were, as women, not even able to vote.”

In another coincidence, this coming Tuesday, July 19th marks the anniversary of the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. One of the Declarations of Sentiments drafted  referred to the Church and women’s “exclusion from the ministry, and with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.” On the next day (July 20th) the Convention passed a resolution, “it is time she [woman] should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.”

Martha and Mary in today’s gospel, are seen as loyal disciples of Jesus from Nazareth who embraced his prophetic vision for a better world. In doing so, they acted in a truly ministerial, priestly, and sacramental way.

For nine-year old Anaya Zullo, who asked me about the next “girl” leader for our parish, the only pastor she has ever known has been a married woman.

We look forward to our partnership with a new pastoral leader.  Like Abraham and Sarah, Martha and Mary, we will continue to pledge to be kind prophets, to pay attention to what really matters, to speak the Word of God without fear and to love our enemies as much as our friends.


  1.  Anaya’s name is used with parental permission
  2. Caroline Hsu. “Martha and Mary Were Biblical Favorites, but Who Were They?”  01/25/08 in
  3.  Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 102-103
  4.  The full theme is called: Mending the Gaps: Reweaving the Fabric of Society


Homily – 10 July 2016 – I Pledge to Love Friends and Enemies

images.duckduckgo15th Sunday in Ordinary Time C – July 10, 2016 – I Pledge to Love Friends and Enemies


Click here for today’s scriptures

When reading this familiar Good Samaritan gospel, about that unknown and unlucky traveler who fell into the hands of robbers, images flashed in my mind of the recent, senseless shootings in Orlando, FL, Baton Rouge, LA,  St. Paul, MN, and Dallas, TX.

Last week I proposed that we pledge to speak fearlessly the word of God revealed to us by Jesus of Nazareth. Today, I propose we pledge to love our friends and those who are different from us, even our enemies.

The history of our country is full of movements designed to counter injustices against workers, religious groups, women, people of color, gays and lesbians. On the other hand, there are just as many counterpoint movements and individual voices that spew hatred and prejudice.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks domestic terrorist groups. It reports that over 900 hate and extremist movements and 1,000 anti-government organizations are operating at alarming levels throughout our country today. Many are white supremacists who carry out violent acts.

So, who are the characters in this good Samaritan story? What might we learn from their behavior? How do we identify with their actions given the realities at home and abroad where “other” persons are robbed of opportunities that prevent them from continuing their own journeys?

The Samaritans were a racially mixed society that lived in the northern kingdom of Israel. They were despised by the Jews because, among other things, they practiced a deviant form of Judaism. Jesus went out of his way (literally) to change Jewish hatred of the Samaritans. We remember his meeting at Jacob’s well with the Samaritan woman, Photina.

The priest in the story could not touch the victim for fear of being defiled himself! The Levite, who also had religious duties, thought that if the priest did not stop why should he. Finally, the Samaritan, a hated enemy of the Jews, felt compassion for the victim of injustice. He took risks to make sure the person would get better. Once again, in telling this story, and by his own actions, Jesus disavowed prejudices aimed at the Samaritans.

When the lawyer in the story asked Jesus how to get to heaven, he heard that one must become a neighbor to anyone and everyone in need. One must reach out with compassion to all people, even to one’s enemies. [1] When life-saving mercy is shown to others, Marilyn Salmon suggests “otherness” stops and we experience instead our common humanity.

In the letter to the Colossians Paul implies that redemption does not take place outside this world. Rather it is the restoration of this created world, one that has fallen into evil hands. The recent, shooting crimes remind us that evil has a strong grip on humanity and that something terribly wrong is happening in our nation that cannot be ignored. 

The summer of 1967 brought racial disorders to American cities. The 1968 report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders concluded: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” When will it ever change? 

We can pray and trust that God will rescue us (Psalm 69). However, to be a neighbor to someone else requires more than having general sentiments of benevolence. It means pledging to love not only those who are like us but also those who are different from us. 

It demands that we take interest in the injustices in our communities and that we do something concrete for people in need. [2] As religious people we cannot stand by and do nothing.


  1.  John J. Pilch. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle C (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1996) 109-111
  2.  Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1984 – Revised Edition) 485-486, 68-69.