Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


7 Comments

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!


5 Comments

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 https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2918
  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


5 Comments

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 http://www.usnews.com/news/religion/articles/2008/01/25/mary-and-martha-are-biblical-favorites-but-who-were-they-
  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


3 Comments

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.


2 Comments

Homily – 3 July 2016 – I Pledge to Speak Fearlessly


Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time C – 3 July 2016 – I Pledge to Speak Fearlessly

Click here for today’s scriptures

Each morning in elementary school, even before prayers, we pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Say it with me now, please. You may recall the words “one nation under God” were added in 1954.

“One nation under God.” Really? What do those words mean for us now? When Jesus claimed the kingdom is at hand he was not referring to a futuristic heavenly place but life on earth free of all injustices and fears.

How does the cry of Isaiah “Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort” ring true with Lady Liberty’s invitation “Give me your tired, your poor … Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”?

The prophet Isaiah was writing about restoration, healing and comfort after a post-exilic period of political turmoil. He described a world renewed (65:17) in which “no longer shall the sound of weeping be heard.” 

Jesus summoned his followers to spread this same message. He reminded them that in some places the door would be open while in others slammed in their faces. When they returned the disciples reported that their mission was successful perhaps because they spoke fearlessly, believing strongly that the the words of Jesus would overcome evil in the world. 

Brendan Byrne adds this comment. They (the 72 disciples) had a “deep sense of relationship with God and a knowledge of the destiny to which that relationship leads.” [1] What is that destiny? Where is it?  Alicia Vargas had this thought. It is an “utterly new way of being for those in Christ, made right with God by faith and thereby set free to be and to live in a new, distinction-free form of life.”

For us, current global conditions are daunting, fraught with doubt, anger and despair. In the Global Trends Report for 2015 just issued by the United Nations a record 65 million people have been displaced by global conflicts. Ban Ki-Moon recently denounced what he called “border closures, barriers and bigotry.” Our own country is slow to welcome 10,000 Syrians. We face criticism from human rights advocates over deportation of Central Americans including women and children. [2] Oh, give me your tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free!

The United States Catholic bishops in their statement “Faithful Citizenship” remind us to consider how we are called to help make God’s vision a reality.  “Unlike some places in the world, we have the ability, as Americans, to take an active role in political life without fear of danger or intimidation … we must work together to transform the world around us.”

This Independence Day weekend we celebrate our freedom and abundant harvests with family gatherings, fireworks and patriotic songs. Let us also remember our Christian mission pledging to speak fearlessly, to make real “liberty and justice” for all.

_____

1. Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 95-96

2.  Sengupta, Somini. “Record 65 Million People Displaced, UN Says” in New York Times, June 20, 2016, A3


4 Comments

Homily – 19 June 2016 – Who Do You Say You Are?


Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time C OTC – 19 June 2016 – Who Do You Say You Are?

Click here for today’s scriptures

Pergamonmuseum_-_Antikensammlung_-_Pergamonaltar_13

Greek goddess Athena, Pergamon Altar

Negin Farzad from Palm Springs, CA, calls herself an “Iranian-American-Muslim-female-comedian” just to make sure there is no doubt about her identity. How do people know who you are? Last week Betsy spoke about the significance of our names as one response to that question. Her words rang true again all last week as we heard the public, reverential announcement of the names of each person killed in Orlando. 

How we are known to others is essential for understanding our purpose and place in our families, jobs and communities. In the gospel Jesus himself wondered “who do people say I am” and the responses were varied. During his lifetime, when gossip and rumors were normal in a tribal culture, a person’s honor was preserved through secrecy and even deception. That is why Jesus warned his followers not to tell anyone. [1]

How about you and me? Who are you? Who am I? Is our identity based on gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, job, marital status, religious affiliation? More than just one of these traits? How does our understanding of our identity affect our relations with others, decisions we make, actions we carry out? 

The glaring labels heard after the Orlando attack, about racial, religious and sexual identities, are dangerously divisive. The scurrilous generalization that somehow all Muslims are responsible for terrorism is just one example. How timely that we heard Paul’s letter to the Galatians this morning. Opposing the idea that new Christians must first follow Jewish laws, Paul announces that in the eyes of God there are no labels — neither male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free person. 

Who were those Galatians anyway? Why did Paul write to them the way he did? Recently I gained insights into this biblical text in an unusual way. Years ago I visited the Pergamon Museum in Berlin to see the magnificent Altar, an enormous artistic and architectural testimony to the power and prestige of the ancient Greek city of Pergamon.

At that time I did not comprehend its significance especially with regard to the Galatians. Last week I saw a compressed exhibition, Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our guide was Brigitte Kahl, a New Testament scholar and expert on the Galatians, Paul and the Pergamon Altar.

The exhibit focuses on Alexander the Great who sought to conquer the world. Professor Kahl spoke excitedly about the combat scenes in the sculpted frieze that frames the enormous Pergamon Altar (c. 200-150 BCE). She graphically described how the gods and especially the goddesses defeated the Giants, symbolic victories of order over chaos. Think of the themes in super hero movies today.

Kahl wrote that the scenes of the mythical heavenly battle in the Altar recall the military operations of the Attalid dynasty of Pergamon against the marauding barbaric Celts or Gauls — another name for the Galatians — who were once “perceived as universal enemies and an almost cosmic security risk.” [2] Were the early Galatians an ancient prototype for today’s terrorists? Kahl claims, that what was important ages ago is still the driving force for evil today — victory over people results in power over the people.

In the gospel text Peter answers Jesus’ question with conviction. You, Jesus, are the anointed One of God. This title, in Reginald Fuller’s words, is not a dignity to be claimed by Christ but a mission to be worked out, one that, for Jesus, would end up on a cross. [3] Anyone who believes in Jesus as a model for living, one who promised hope and life in the face of despair and death, will also take up that mission along with its consequences.

The cross we are asked to bear is a symbol of the intolerance, exploitation, prejudice and discrimination in the world today. That is why we placed our cross in our midst and not somewhere removed from us. By our baptism we are summoned to confront the evils of our time and speak out against them. 

Paul wrote to the Galatians long after Pergamon became part of the Roman Empire and long after they were considered a villainous people. He insisted on “the radical character and universal scope of God’s grace as a crucial factor” in the early church’s identity. [4] We, too, proclaim that the freedom to be who we are is a gift from God; that all humans are equal in the eyes of God. We do not use the word “other” to distinguish our identity from people who are different from us.

What’s in a name? Who do people say you are? Who do they say I am? Our Christian identity is part of the answer.

_______________

  1.  Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 1995, 100-102
  2.  Kahl, Brigitte. Reading Galatians and Empire at the Great Altar of Pergamon. ATLAS Collection of religion and theology journals.
  3.  Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Third Edition (Collegevile: Liturgical Press) 2006. pp. 478-480
  4.  Hays, R. in Attridge, Harold W. (Ed.) The Harper Collins Study Bible NRSV (San Francisco: Harper) 1989, p. 1974


3 Comments

Homily – 5 June 2016 – Reborn, Again


Vector illustration of a man lock up in prisonTenth Sunday in Ordinary Time C – 5 June 2016 – Reborn, Again

Click here for today’s scriptures

Every week members of our parish go to Coxsackie Correctional Facility to lead bible study classes. Last week, I went with them to compare the teachings of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. During the program some prisoners shared rather candid testimonies. They lamented over the lost opportunities in their lives and expressed guilt for the bad decisions made in the past.

They also talked about how they destroyed the lives of others by their selfish behavior. High on their list were the ways they disappointed their children, girlfriends, wives and parents. They told us how hard it is for them to give up bad habits. As I listened I thought about what they and we have in common, that is, how hard it is for every one of us to give up bad habits as we we try to grow and develop into better human beings ourselves.

My experience at the prison helped me think about today’s biblical texts. All three readings present stories of people who struggled in life trying to let go of the baggage weighing them down. Pastor Beverly Bingle offers a summary (paraphrased here): The widow in Zarephath felt guilty thinking her son got sick to death as punishment for her own sin. The apostle Paul was caught in the legalities of his ancestral traditions. The woman in Nain was the victim of cultural conventions that undervalued a woman’s place in society.

In the first reading the prophet Elijah breathes new life into the son of the widow. Scholars refer to Elijah as a prophet, a magician and a connector. In biblical terms prophets deliver messages from God. As magicians they make divine power available to us [1] and connect the gifts of God to the needs of the present world. [2]

In the gospel Luke replays the old testament story. So, Jesus, like Elijah, heals the son of the widow. He is thought to be revealing what the kingdom of God might look like, where people can be reborn to live freely, unencumbered by the injustices of the world.  Jesus showed compassion and mercy toward the woman as much he did toward her son.

These passages present opportunities to think of our own destinies. They are promises that the God who made this earth is not subject to the limits of it. [3] Like the prisoners at Coxsackie we are doing time during this life struggling daily to find ways to break loose of whatever may imprison us from becoming more productive and caring human beings. 

Most prisoners try to make the best of their time in jail. Some write memoirs, others earn a degree or learn a trade. The volunteers who visit our prisons bring support and hope to the men. They remind them, by their continual presence to them, that God does not give up on them nor do they.

The other evening one resident said he often thinks it is good for him to be in jail where, in this hellish place, he is forced to live simply, possess almost nothing and spend time reflecting and praying. What matters most in life becomes clearer to him. He is fearful that life on the outside (where you and I live) is far more complicated, filled with empty promises and temptations that cause people to make bad decisions that can affect a person’s growth and the lives of others.

Someone asked me “why do you go to the prison?” There are a couple of answers. I was invited to go just like I was nudged to volunteer at our food pantry. Both experiences have been rewarding for me. At Coxsackie I learn a lot from the prisoners about what it takes to keep on, to try again and again to restore and rejuvenate ourselves.. 

We can help one another to move beyond the sins of our past. We can be prophets to one another, showing ways to new visions that liberate us from worn out conventions. In the words of today’s psalm — with God by our side we can “change our mourning into dancing.”

_________

  1.  Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus: Life of a Mediterranean Peasant. (San Francisco: Harper, 1971) 138
  2.  Florence, Anna Carter (Ed.) Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011) 74
  3.  Kavanaugh, John. The Word Encountered: Meditations on the Sunday Scriptures. (Maryknoll: Orbis 1996) 33-35