Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


Homily – September 19, 2010: Shrewd and Learned Catholics

25 Sunday Ordinary Time – September 19, 2010 – Shrewd and Learned Catholics
Amos 8:4-7, Psalm 113:1-2,4-8, 1 Timothy 2:1-8, Luke 16:1-13 (10-13)

Full biblical texts

The bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict is in the United Kingdom for what is being called an historic visit. Today he beatifies John    Henry Newman (d. 1890) the 19th century imaginative theologian who believed the church is holy but always in need of reform. Newman supported the participation of the laity in all aspects of church life. On this 75th annual celebration of Catechetical Sunday perhaps Newman’s influence as an educator is poignant. He called the University “the high protecting power of all knowledge and science, of fact and principle, of inquiry and discovery, of experiment and speculation; it maps out the terrain of the intellect.” [1] I wonder about our Church. Does it map out the terrain of the intellect?

Newman’s statement resounds with our desire here at St. Vincent’s to continue our own education not only as parishioners but as members of the larger church and as citizens of the world. Learning more about our faith tradition, its teachings, its tensions, its role in affairs of life, is imperative for people of all ages. How else are we Catholics to get along much less survive in a contemporary culture? Faith formation is so important in our religion we have a special “ministry of the catechist” which we are acknowledging at every liturgy this weekend.

We nourish our of journey of faith not only by what happens to us here during the public prayer of the church and in our own devotional prayers but also by what transpires in our classrooms. These experiences will inevitably cause some kind of conversion in our lives. This is what education does. It challenges assumptions; helps us to see things in new ways; it bridges gaps. It helps us make connections between religion, science, medicine, and politics.

And, we believe, God has something to do with it. Cardinal Newman taught that knowledge is a gift from God. Here during the liturgy we learn how God functions in our lives and the lives of others. This happens as we listen to the biblical texts, greet each other with respect and share the Eucharist. Today’s gospel is a good example of how the Word of God challenges us to grow out of our old ways and to explore new horizons.

Jesus often used “disreputable” characters to make a point. [2] The shrewd manager of funds in today’s gospel devised a plan to make extra money as he over billed his employer’s customers. His successful but unethical scheme was even praised by his boss. Then the story turns. The manager rethinks his strategy and stops taking a cut. He figures if he is more honest people will think more highly of him later on. Christians, like those affiliated with other religions, need to be shrewd in the ways of the world yet mindful of heavenly values.

That is what the pope said when he addressed Parliament in Westminster Hall on September 17, 2010. He spoke about “the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity.” Perhaps he was speaking about the European Union and the United Kingdom but his admonition is useful to us  in the States especially during this election season. What roles do we Christians play to affect life in this country, in our own lives? Do we give in to the extremists whether on the left or the right? Where are knowledge, truth and reason at work?

The gospel today offers us a way to balance both being shrewd in the world and mindful of heaven. We are called to show others that there is life in another place — the “kin-dom” of God. This kin-dom is where people love, respect and care for one another. Being knowledgeable in both spiritual and secular affairs provides a platform for such action. Only by acting can we change things.

The other scriptures today echo this calling to be life long learners and activists in our religion. Amos was the prophet of social justice. The psalm is a reference to God’s vindication of the poor. The letter from Timothy is a reference to the duties of the ministers of the church. [3] This is not a reference only to ordained or commissioned ministries but to the entire Church membership.

Thirty-one years ago this coming week The Mount Abu Declaration was presented to the United Nations. Leaders from 40 nations discussed and presented their vision for humanity which included among other things that all individuals would have equal opportunities for growth, educational progress and employment, with full encouragement to develop all their potentialities. The Declaration noted however: A vision without a task is but a dream. A task without a vision is drudgery. A task with a vision can change the world.

As this congregation prepares to celebrate 125 years of Catholic presence in this region what are we to do next? Festivities aside is there room for each one of us, young and old alike, to learn more, to become more active in our parish, in our diocese, in our religion, in this neighborhood? What is our vision and our strategy for breathing life into the kin-dom of God here on earth?


1 Newman, John. The Idea of a University. Part 2, Article 8.

2 Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 5-6

3 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition) pp. 504-505.



Homily – September 12, 2010: A Gospel of Patience, Generosity and Hospitality

24 Sunday Ordinary Time – September 12, 2010 –  A Gospel of Patience, Generosity and Hospitality

Exodus 32:7-11,13-14, Psalm 51:3-4,12-13,17,19, 1Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-32 or 1-10
Click here for the  complete  biblical texts

After the reading of the Prodigal Son parable the assembly was asked to raise their hands if they agreed …

The father did the right thing?
The older son got a bad deal?
Have you been in a similar situation as a parent or child?

The story of the prodigal son is one we all can relate to in different ways. A parent worrying about a child coming home in the middle of the night; a spouse or partner wondering if a loved one will return from fighting a war; a child afraid of being neglected by parents.

The father in the biblical text greeted the son with open arms and said welcome home; I do not care where you’ve been or what you’ve done. I love you and I am so happy you are back. No punishment, just forgiveness. Some call this an act of unconditional love, the kind of love the bible says God has for all of us; the kind of love we can show toward one another.

But, forgiveness is hard work. It requires generosity, patience and humility. In the first reading today Moses asked God to be patient with the Israelites who were losing patience with God. In the new testament passage Paul praised a patient God who called him to Christian ministry even after he persecuted Christians. The gospel provides a message of patient and gracious hospitality as the forlorn parent welcomed home a long lost child.

Was it providential that we listened to these readings at the end of a week when we remembered the terrorist attacks on our homeland nine years ago? How do we treat someone who has hurt us? The son who left the farm in the gospel hurt his father. The older brother who stayed at home was also hurt. These past weeks we have listened to and watch diverse voices clamoring about mosques, memorials and taking back America. No doubt some are hurting, rightly so, from death at the hands of terrorists. Others may be afraid of or prejudiced against people who are different from them. Some spouted gospels of hate and vengeance while two women turned the other cheek.

You may have read about Susan Rettik and Patti Quigley who lost their husbands in the World Trade Center attack. [1] Both women were pregnant at the time. Their children would never see their fathers. This weekend these women are speaking at a Mosque in Boston to rally others to join the fight against poverty in Afghanistan. They realized that thousands of widows in Afghanistan have lost their husbands in the war being waged there. According to Nicholas Kristoff the action of these women is a welcomed antidote to the “anti-Islamic hysteria that clouds the 9/11 anniversary.” (See the documentary “Beyond Belief” to learn more about the mission of these two women.)

It does not matter what we’ve done or where we’ve been; what matters most is where we are going now; what we will do now with our lives. That is the wisdom of the parent who welcomed, forgave and celebrated his son’s return.

This past week also marked the end of Ramadan when Muslims fast for a month to seek greater spiritual awareness in their lives. Last Thursday Jews celebrated Rosh Hashanah with anticipation of a sweet, healthy and prosperous new year. Both religious traditions consist of good people, who look to the future with hope that a world torn by hatred and fear can find humility and forgiveness, hospitality and generosity.

In our Catholic religion there is a lot to celebrate but there is much to worry about. Many have left our religion because they have been hurt by the institution in some way. Their absence is a loss for us. Others remain active in the Church even while they struggle with institutional clericalism, tentative leadership, inequity, and scandal. The all loving God who created us weeps for all who are hurt or lost. What are the people of God to do?

This parish of St. Vincent de Paul is a faith community steeped in its 125 years of Catholic presence, embracing members from over fifty zip codes, serving countless others. While we have much to be proud of, we are not yet finished. Like the kin-dom of God, which is here but incomplete, so are we. What we do next depends less on what we have accomplished and more on what we will do in the future, like the parent of the prodigal son, with generosity and hospitality toward all.

1 Kristoff, Nicholas D. “Bless the Healers of 9/11” in The New York Times, September 10, 2010.