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.


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

6 thoughts on “Homily – September 19, 2010: Shrewd and Learned Catholics

  1. “wonder about our Church. Does it map out the terrain of the intellect?”

    I love this line and it certainly does speak of Newman – who, not unlike Aquinas, is used and at time co-opted, by those who wish to claim him. Of course, it is like that for others as well, and foremost that was for Jesus himself.

    To truly be a learner, at least IMHO, is to be an activist. As those who learn we are called to the virtues of obedience, as etymology explains, is based on listening and to inquiry, which is of course to question.

    If we cannot listen, we cannot question and if we cannot question, I think we might be challenged to listen.

    Newman certainly undertook a journey that he perhaps never meant to take, because he both listened deeply and questioned profoundly.

    The echo of catechesis is there for us all, if we can simply find the way.

    Prayers for the worship community of St. Vincent’s at this important time.


  2. Hi Richard,

    Your final questions in this homily were presented in such a way that I thought we could all ‘turn and talk’ as we did at a certain liturgy a few months ago. There were plenty of points for a thoughtful reflection among the community, young and old. I wonder what would have happened…?

    And thanks Fran for your comments above. I am constantly amazed by your the amount of inforamtion you can absorb in a day!

    It is a blessing to have friends like each of you to guide me in ‘mapping out the terrain of the intellect’!


  3. Your inspiring homily notwithstanding, I think if I belonged to the Anglican Church this beatification would really rub me the wrong way. I would be thinking to myself that if Newman had not converted to Catholicism, he would not be on the Pope’s list. So in one respect, Newman is being considered for sainthood because he defected. I am embarrassed, as a Catholic, to have our blinders so publically displayed. Alas, one would hope the Vatican might have taken a lesson from Edith Stein’s beatification.
    PS. I do look forward to these homilies each week…thanks for posting!


  4. In response to @Eileen B. I have read your comment and given it some thought, so please hear my reply in the spirit in which it is thoughtfully offered.

    Well, it is true that Newman would not be beatified if he had not converted. However, he did convert and led a very compelling life as a Roman Catholic. I am not sure what there is to be embarrassed about there? Perhaps I misunderstand you? I am seeking clarification and understanding here.

    Should he be ignored because of his Anglican roots? Where does that leave other convert saints? The Edith Stein issues are understandable, but yet very different. And in the end, I do feel the same about her as I do about Newman. I mean- what about others? Elizabeth Ann Seton comes to mind. And I also think of Blessed Kateri. There are many examples that might not become saints if a certain kind of propriety was an objective.

    I know many Anglican/Episcopalians and many of them are fully put out, which I can understand.

    It is my hope that you see and respond to this comment; I would like to understand or learn more about your thought process here. We are all always learning – Newman was the very embodiment of that.

    In peace,


    • I wonder if the Newman “conversion” issue causes hard feelings this year because some Anglicans (and Roman Catholics) are still stunned over Rome’s 2009 invitation to Anglicans to join and have their own section of the Roman Catholic Church, prayer books and all. See the BBC story for one. Stats have it that not many Anglicans have in fact taken up the offer!


      • @Richard, that is a big reason, one of many, that my own Anglican/Episcopal friends are very upset – and I can understand why.

        I will check out the BBC link, but I will say that Rome’s invitation fueled the already blazing fires of Anglican/Episcopalian challenges.

        In fact, many of the more liberal Episcopalians that I know claim Newman as their own saint, misused in some way before the canonization et al, by the Roman church.

        This is one of the many reasons I see Newman in the same light as Aquinas; claimed by many for reasons and causes.

        In any case, I did not mean to communicate that I did not understand why there were hard feelings, but rather that in the end, Newman made his choices. The hard part for all is that we are often limited by the culture and context in which we live… we can never fully see from Newman’s POV nor that of our sisters and brothers, however hard we may try.

        OK, enough from me on this topic! I do love the conversation however!!

        Peace and good to all!


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