Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


Homily, June 27, 2010 – Muslims, Gay Pride and the Gospel

13 Ordinary C – June 27, 2010 — Muslims, Gay Pride and the Gospel

1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21, Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11, Galatians, 5:1,13-18, Luke 9:51-62

Complete biblical texts
Some current events cast a contemporary light on today’s biblical texts. An angry crowd in Murfreesboro, TN recently rejected plans for a new Islamic community center and mosque. [1] One Christian woman avowed that this country was founded on the one true God and Jesus Christ. She forgot how Islam, Judaism and Christianity all have the same ancestors in Abraham, Sarah and Hagar.

Similarly, in Staten Island, NY, a rowdy group stopped the construction of a mosque in a vacant Catholic convent. [2] Novelist Peter Quinn noted “it’s hard for people to remember just how virulent, deep-seeded and widespread anti-Catholicism was in America.” [3]

Why are some Americans filled with suspicion and hostility against Muslims or any other group of people who are different from them? What does it take for Christians to answer the call from God to advance the kingdom of God?

Tomorrow is the forty-first anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City (June 28, 1969), when homosexuals fought law enforcement officers during unconstitutional raids. Today is Gay Pride Sunday ending a month of events by gays and lesbians celebrating their identity and diversity in the face of intolerance and prejudice. (Another related film is 8: The Mormon Proposition)

Although defeating plans to build mosques and rejecting homosexuality are not the same, these events have something in common. When fear of people different from us turns to anger and hatred, we all have to be on the watch.

We only have to consider the bullying that goes on in our schools and on the internet, the mean spirited gossip at work and over the backyard fence, to know that such acts of cruel hostility are closer than we think. What are Christians to do when our innermost feelings about people clash with the gospel message? Do today’s biblical texts provide an answer?

In the second reading, Paul’s letter to the people of Galatia (near Ankara the present day capital of Turkey), we read that the only way to salvation is to abide freely by the main law — love of neighbor. Our love for God can only be expressed in real time by showing respect and love for others regardless of who they are. [4] The passage warns us, “if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.” (Gal. 5:15)

In this sense you and I are entrusted with keeping peace on earth by searching for common ground and not by dwelling on what divides us. Jesus sets an example in the gospel. He was on his way to Jerusalem and for some reason wanted to go through Samaria where he knew he would not be welcomed. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other. His disciples got annoyed and wanted to destroy the Samaritans with “fire from heaven.”

Although some think Jesus was a revolutionary liberationist (a bleeding heart liberal in today’s terms) he could not be identified or contained by any one political or religious party. [5] So too, our lives and attitudes are not shaped by conservative or liberal ideologies but by the gospel. Jesus remained focused on his mission and he stopped the disciples in their zealous tracks. [6]

The Catholic religion on paper teaches that all people who have faith in God are saved. In reality, how do we Catholics respect other religions? The Catholic religion on paper teaches respect for all human beings. In reality, how do we Catholics treat gays and lesbians? Although issues regarding Muslims and homosexuality will continue to divide us in the civic and religious arenas the gospels give a counter punch — we are called to work for reconciliation, peace and justice for all people.

How do these scriptures speak to us today? What if you are not a Christian? What if you are a Muslim or a Jew? What if you’re a woman? What if you’re a minority? What if you are a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person? I was curious and asked a former parishioner who is gay how do the scriptures speak to him. He responded. The gospels are universal. I am everywhere in these stories; identity does not give us swifter access to [God’s] grace nor [does it] bar us from temptation. The person went on to write, we ought to “focus on universal needs and not on individual identities.” 7

What should we do when our innermost feelings about other people clash with the teachings of Jesus Christ? Difficult as it may be for some of us, I think we know the answer.


1 Blackburn, B. “Plan for Mosque in Tennessee Town Draws Criticism from Residents” ABC News, June 18, 2010

2 Vitello, Paul. “Staten Island Church Reconsiders Deal to Sell Vacant Convent for Use as a Mosque” in the New York Times June 17, 2010.

3 Dwyer, Jim. “ A Marine, A Mosque, a Question,” in the New York Times,  June 18, 2010

4 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 – Revised Edition) pp. 478-480.

5 Fuller, ibid.

6 Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 93-95

7 From an email on the topic of gays, lesbians and the Catholic church


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Homily June 13, 2010 – Exuberant Faith and Good Work

11 Ordinary C – June 13, 2010 – Exuberant Faith and Good Work

2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13, Psalm 32: 1-2, 5,7,11, Galatians 2:16, 19-21, Luke 7:36-8:3

Complete biblical texts

Not long ago going to Mass every Sunday, along with following a few other rules, was considered essential if you wanted to get to heaven. Today, one wonders if anybody worries about missing Mass on Sunday. Many believe following every rule is not as important as living good lives. So what does someone have to do to be assured they are justified in the eyes of God? Today’s scriptures address what is called the “justification debate.” [1] It’s not exactly something that keeps us up at night.

Let’s go right to the gospel. Here we have Simon a Pharisee who proudly welcomes Jesus to his house but does not offer any customary hospitality. Then there is the nameless woman (it was not Mary Magdalen) known for her sinful lifestyle. She crashes the party and not only boldly washes Jesus’s feet (a sign of hospitality), she kisses his feet (a sign of gratitude for pardon). [2] Jesus completes the scene. He accepts the woman and says to her, “Your faith has saved you.”

So, was the woman saved because she washed Jesus’s feet or because Jesus loved her so much he forgave her?  [3] Are we saved because we do good work or because of the unlimited love God has for us? Let’s look at the other scriptures.

The first reading is an examination of conscience of sorts. David, who was chosen to be the leader of Israel and Judah, was really a bad guy. He murdered people; he was a womanizer. He confessed his wrongdoings and God named him King. This story suggests to us that being on the good side of God meant keeping the laws and asking forgiveness when ignoring the laws.

Fast forward to the new testament and we find Paul in the Roman province Galatia (near modern day Ankara, capital of Turkey). He’s telling the people that they are justified not by works of the law but by faith in Christ. The expression “works of the law” is a reference to ritual laws like circumcision and diets. In the Letter of James (2:24) we find a counterpoint … that we are justified by good works (acts of charity) and not faith alone.  [4] So which it?

To find the answer we have to back up. God created the universe, everyone and everything in it. God expected people to be good. They weren’t. We are not. Abraham is asked by God to rally the people of Israel to spread God’s love to all nations. In this sense God was counting on humans to make the world justified. That didn’t work. It would fall upon the shoulders of a loyal Israelite to finish the job. Jesus is sent to soak up all the imperfections of humanity. When alive he offered people an alternative way of living. His death symbolized the destruction of all imperfections. His post resurrection appearances and the power of the spirit persuaded people to be faithful in carrying out his mission.

The woman featured in the story expressed her gratitude and her faith in Jesus by carrying out an exuberant act of hospitality. Apparently Jesus also cured the other women listed at the end of the story. Although Luke does not call them such these women seem to be disciples of Jesus who supported him in his work. Clearly although women were marginalized in society in his time Jesus included them in his ministry.

These biblical texts suggest to us that salvation consists not only having faith in God but also responding to that gift like the woman in the gospel did. How are we changing as we experience God’s love?  [5] The woman was transformed. How are we transformed? What’s new in our lives because of the love of God? With respect for other Christians this is what we Catholics believe. To be justified in God begins with faith in Christ. However, if we do not show thanks with good work, like the woman in the story did, our faith is dead (James 2:14-16). We grow in faith by the way we live and what we do for others. That’s why God created us, to be good to one another. Neither faith alone or acts of charity alone will save us.

We may not have an answer for why more Catholics don’t go to church on Sunday. We’re not even sure each one of us here is on the good side of God. What we can hope for is that all of us have faith in God and are doing some sort of good work.


1 John Piper and N.T. Wright, “The Justification Debate: A Primer” in Christianity Today. (Posted 6/26/2009.)

2  Newsom C. & Ringe S.  The Woman’s Bible Commentary (London: John Knox Press, 1992, pp. 285-288.

3 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition) pp. 476-478.

4 See Catholic Catechism, Para. 1963, and Council of Trent, Canons 9, 14, 20.

5 Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 73-77

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The Search for Symbolism in Religious Architecture

Statistics in The Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life estimate that 41% of Americans no longer practice the religion that they were raised in? Religious affiliation is fluid.

While some mainstream religious groups struggle to attract new members and keep older ones non-denomination congregations are springing up everywhere. Many of the new worship facilities are devoid of identifiable religious symbols.

What’s behind this movement? Is it a reaction to centuries of the powerful presence of mainline religions? Or, is it an indicator that emerging religious experiences no longer reflect the status quo? Is it a trend or something to be noted?

Read my article on “The Search for Symbolism in Religious Architecture” published for the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture on The American Institute of Architects website.

Comments are welcomed. Thank  you.


Homily: The Body and Blood of Christ

Note: the next homily will be posted on Sunday June 13, 2010.

Genesis 14:18-20, Psalm 110:1-4, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Luke 9:11b-17

Today’s complete biblical texts

For the longest time now researchers have worked to find ways to build new organs to replace damaged livers, blood vessels and other body parts. Overcoming various obstacles (scientific and ethical ones) it appears that scientists at MIT and Harvard have found a way to grow cells by breaking down tissues that hold them together. Once they are free the cells can be assembled, like building blocks or Legos, into new organisms and potentially new body parts.  [1]

In recent weeks we listened to scriptures describe who we are as members of one body, blessed with many gifts and working with one Spirit. Today the church celebrates the body and blood of Christ. To use time honored theological terms it can be a celebration of the church, the people of God, you and me, who comprise the mystical body of Christ. In this sense today is a celebration of our body and our blood.

Each one of us knows that when we have a head ache, a heart attack; or need a hip replacement or a blood transfusion, the rest of our body suffers. Because of its resilience however the body, along with a determined mind and positive a spirit, can mend itself. Medicine and surgical advancements are helpful in this healing process. Could the same be true of the people who make up the church?

The first passage from Genesis this morning tells of an indigenous royal priest called Melchizedek who, by blessing Abram, sets the stage for the development of the priestly people of God. That’s how the faith tradition of Jews and, eventually Christians, got its start. The psalm affirms Melchizedek’s role as an ambassador of God.

In the second reading we heard how Paul recounted what happened at that final meal when Jesus, using familiar Jewish blessings, shared bread and wine, calling it his body and blood. He gave new meaning to the food and drink. The gospel tells the popular story of how Jesus blessed food which the disciples then shared with the multitude of people. Similarly you and I are called to serve others. That event on the mountain was a foretaste of the meal in the upper room and of the never ending heavenly banquet. [2]

We Christians build our entire faith tradition around these actions. When we gather at one table to share the Word of God and the sacramental bread and wine we continue to build up the body of Christ. It’s like building up new cells in an organism. We breathe new Spirit into the blood stream of the Church. Each one of us is important in this action. All of us are invited to embrace the mission set forth by Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus was asking when he said, “Do this in my memory.” His words are not merely references to the Eucharistic meal but an invitation to take on the weight of the cross caused by poverty, oppression, injustice, war. We carry on his mission not alone but in communion with one another. No one can do it alone.

To welcome and include all of God’s creatures into his household Jesus was famous for breaking down cultural taboos and even religious rules and regulations. He did not say take and eat, take and drink only if you are straight, white, male and Jewish. As they moved through the crowd with bread and fish the disciples did not ask for identification cards or whether someone was rich or poor, Jew or Gentile.

We cannot overlook the tensions in the world and in our Church caused by prejudice, power and arrogance. These symptoms plague the body of Christ; they clog the arteries of the Church. What happens in Rome, Italy or Phoenix, Arizona does not stay there. The news about the way the pope handles the pedophile crisis or how a bishop excommunicates a highly respected health care provider, without due process, affects all people of God. One human suffers, everyone suffers.

When something bothers us physically and mentally our first reaction is not to cut off a limb or tear out a heart or tap into a brain. Those are last resorts after other measures have been exhausted and after long and sometimes difficult discussions with family, friends and medical professionals.

Like any human body our church is imperfect. However, when it breaks down it too can be built back up again because of the care and love of God. This divine healing process requires our participation, the faith and hope, of every member of the Church, clergy and laity alike. There is no room for spectators in this action.

Today’s scriptures are less about a royal priesthood and more about the priestly people of God. These texts are not only about sharing abundant gifts of life but also about treating one another in a respectful and hospitable way.

Scientific and medical advancements may eventually alleviate many sufferings we humans have. A good dose of regenerative medicine in our ecclesial society could also bring hope for God’s people including those who believe we make up the body and blood of Christ.


1 “Building Organs Block by Block” in Science Daily.

2 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today
(The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition) pp. 444-446, 59.

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New St. Mary Church Dedicated June 5, 2010

After many years of planning and fund raising the parishioners of St. Mary’s       Parish in Swormville, NY (Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo) dedicated their new 7 million dollar 1000 seat church June 5, 2010.

The Most Rev. Edward Kmiec, D.D.  began the liturgy by blessing the main doors of the building. There the architectural drawings were handed to the Bishop by Mr. Thomas Kerns FAIA and Mr. Sean Reilly AIA of The Kerns Group, Arlington, VA, the project architects.

The Pastor Rev. Robert Yetter, who was featured in the Buffalo News (June 5, 2010), then opened the doors for the symbolic first time and with the Bishop led the parishioners into the church.

The impressive liturgy is metaphorical. All of the ritual actions pointed not only to the dedication of the building but also the re-dedication of the parishioners. The interior was blessed with holy water, the walls and altar table were anointed with oil, the Word of God was proclaimed and the assembly shar

ed in the sacrament of the Eucharist. After the communion rite the sacred elements were reserved in the tabernacle located in its own chapel behind the altar area.

The new church complies with all of the latest liturgical instructions of the Roman Catholic Church including the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2002) and the United States Bishops’ pastoral Built of Living Stones (2000).

The church features a baptismal font, a semi-circular seating plan on a sloped floor, a music ministry area and a chapel for the reservation of the Holy Eucharist. The new altar, ambo and tabernacle were custom crafted by parishioner, Donald Herberger. Stations of the Cross were made by Suzanne Young Oakland Township, MI and various sculptures were made by New Jersey artist, Brian Hanlon.

New glass art windows were designed by Pike Stained Glass Studio, Rochester, NY. I served as the liturgical design consultant.