Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – October 10, 2010: Catholic Perseverance

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28th Sunday Ordinary Time – October 10, 2010 – Catholic Perseverance
2 Kings 5:14-17, Ps 98:1-4, 2 Tim 2:8-13, Luke 17:11-19

Complete biblical texts.

Note: This homily was given on October 10, 2010, at St. Joseph the Worker Church, Liverpool, NY on the occasion of that parish’s one hundred and twentieth anniversary.

The one hundred and twentieth anniversary of this Catholic community is a time to reminisce about the achievements of the past. Surely there is much to be grateful for. You have been and still are a blessing to Liverpool and the Diocese of Syracuse in so many ways.

Now, what’s next? Where do you go from here? What path can our church take to advance the kin-dom of God on earth. Kin-dom [1] is a word used to describe a time and place on earth where all people respect and care for one another — like kin. We believe, because of Jesus Christ, that kin-dom is here. We are also smart enough to realize it is far from being complete.

All the lepers in today’s gospel were healed by Jesus. It was one way Jesus proclaimed the kin-dom of God in his time. Only one leper came back to say thank you.  This biblical text is about the hospitality of Jesus and the gratitude of the Samaritan man. We have been blessed by God. We continue to be grateful. The gospel is a story that presents an opportunity for us to reflect on the hospitality we show others as our church continues to find its proper place in an ever changing world.

At one time Catholic leaders believed the Catholic church was an exemplary model for organizing and governing society. Today our religion, like others, struggles to be relevant in a country, in an age, where shifting cultural habits and traditional value systems clash with each other. Studies show that religious life in America is fluid; that as much as 44% of people who consider themselves to be religious no longer practice the religion in which they were raised. [2]

The challenge for our church is to establish a presence in the public square to counter what we perceive to be wrong in society and to do so with humility, bold conviction and arm in arm with other faith traditions which seek to do the same. However, to regain our credibility we cannot overlook issues in our own house. Here are five concerns we can treat to keep our church healthy, to stand it upright again. (Note to readers: Originally there were ten concerns, to simulate the 10 lepers in today’s gospel. In the interest of time, I list five.)

1. Abuse of power. It will take our church a long time to heal and be healed of the deep wounds caused by the misconduct of clergy. While this is a problem the chief officers in our church are attempting to remedy, the impact of the scandal has already emptied many pews in this nation and in other countries as well. So. How can we all work together to rebuild the image of our church as an institution that, in spite of its imperfections, continues to value and respect all human beings?

2. Ministry. Visionaries, leaders and hard workers are essential if any institution like our church is to survive. No one lay person, deacon, priest or bishop can do it all alone. An imbalance of power in any religious institution will, sooner or later, deprive its members of reaching their full potential. All persons, clergy and laity together, are called by baptism to be coworkers in the vineyard. So. How can we discuss, define and distinguish the definitions of vocation and occupation to open all ministries in the church to men and women alike?

3. Women. In this country more women than ever are chief executive officers of huge corporations; they hold Cabinet offices dealing with domestic and international affairs; and now three women sit on the Supreme Court. Further, some studies indicate women have outpaced men in education and earnings growth. [3] Our church says that all persons are to be treated with dignity and equality. So. How can our religion consider expanding the roles women play in the liturgical life and the day to day governance of the Church?

4. Millennial Generation. The future of our church, as with other mainline religions, rests with young adults. However, reaching those under the age of thirty is a challenge. While many in this generation seek to be spiritual and get closer to God there is some indication that, for many of them, mainline religions are “uninspiring, restrictive, culturally bland and too institutionally focussed.” [4] So. What can our church do to make the stories and celebrations of our faith, relevant to young adults who are tethered to their smart phones and whose identities and social networks are often shaped by Facebook and Twitter?

5. Generation X, Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation. Those who are older than 30 have often been considered the backbone of their religions in some way through time, contributions and talents. However, in some regions like the Northeast, the Catholic membership is dwindling due to old age or demographic shifts. Many Catholics are anonymous and/or disenfranchised. They just do not participate actively. So. How can we Catholics restore pride in our identity and our reputation for doing good work in our vast network of parishes, hospitals, schools and charities?

It is unlikely that an extreme makeover in our church will happen soon. Membership in the church requires patience and steadfastness. There is no privilege or reward. Trusting that God will do something good depends on how well we respond to God’s grace and other human beings. Like any unconditional covenant, establishing a trusting and loving long term relationship with God and one another takes time.

The first reading this weekend says that Naaman was cured of his disease because he plunged himself into the Jordan River, the very same river that Jesus would be baptized in later. This anniversary weekend, any weekend, is a good time for all of us to renew, to plunge into our baptismal call to work hard to advance God’s kin-dom on earth. The second reading is encouraging. It tells us “if we persevere” we will live with Christ.

Memories of our achievements will fade away quickly if the stories of our faith, our actions and trust in God do not speak to others in a contemporary way. If we do not embrace and practice the faith and ministries entrusted to us we let each other down. Nostalgia is not a good strategy for greeting the future.

The parish where I worship on Sundays is also celebrating its anniversary this year. St. Vincent de Paul Church in Albany, NY is one hundred and twenty-five years old. A couple of weeks ago Betsy Rowe-Manning, our parish life director, challenged us. She called for a “holy daring” to build up the kin-dom of God here on earth. Moving forward to a new age can we together envision a church, a country, a world where all creatures of God are treated with “unbounded hospitality?” [5]

Congratulations on your parish’s anniversary! Blessed by God you and your ancestors have blessed so many of God’s creatures. There is much for you to be proud of as Catholics but there is still much more work to do.

______

1 Cuban theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz from Drew University is credited with coining the word kin-dom some time ago.

2 http://pewforum.org/Faith-in-Flux.aspx

3 Frey Richard and Cohn, D’Vera “New Economics of Marriage: The Rise of Wives” In Pew Research Center Publications, January 19, 2010.  http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1466/economics-marriage-rise-of-wives?src=prc-latest&proj=peoplepress

4 Words used by S. Cohen and A. Kelman in their study on Jews under the age of 35 entitled The Continuity of Discontinuity.

5 A phrase used by scripture scholar, Brendan Byrne.

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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.

4 thoughts on “Homily – October 10, 2010: Catholic Perseverance

  1. I’m a “well over” 30 who recently returned to regular practice of my Catholic faith after having been one of those disenchanted by way my church had caused me to feel “less than” for many reasons. I returned because I believe that change is an inside job. Criticism without involvement only creates more resistance. I can envision a time when, as in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Tipping Point”, the energy of change becomes a groundswell that carries the Church forward in a enormous leap of equality. Your homily’s surely help to nourish that movement.

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  2. “Nostalgia is not a good strategy for greeting the future”. I have never heard it said more clearly or accurately. Thank-you for that framework.
    I am heartened by the candor and challenges posed in this homily because it goes right to the heart of the matter. The themes of (in)justice in the official church, cultural relevance and generational patterns are so huge that it takes my breath away to honestly consider how far the pendulum would have to swing toward center for the official church to even begin to make sense to the world and catholics under 40ish. The perseverance that is required to be a practicing catholic today is a path that, for now, I continue to choose. Although I am only 48 years old, I have clear memories of the winds of hope and change that blew through the church in the early 1970’s onward. I am aware that I, like many, continue to ask myself how long I can participate in an official church that often denies and rejects, in practice if not words, the most basic teachings of Jesus. I think the answer is that I do try to look “big picture” and I rely on the deep roots I have in my catholic faith tradition. I feel bound to the women (and men) who have had the courage and grace to call the church to reform since it’s earliest days. As a mother, I am already deeply grieved by the fact that, no matter what I do, my son will clearly not choose to remain a practicing catholic as he gets older. Still, our future is bound to the grace of God and those who love Her. I really appreciate this homily because I believe that Christ calls us to a direct and honest discussion of what it means to “be” love in our world. Thanks Richard.

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  3. So well said! Thanks for posting this and many blessings on the Community of St. Joseph the Worker in Liverpool. I worshiped there when I was in the 2nd and 3rd grade.

    I’d be interested in the other five points. These five cited here are so aptly stated. You continue to challenge us all.
    Thank you.

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  4. I am really struck with what you said about how to be present as Church in the public square and what is needed in order to do so.

    The scriptures this week are yet another reminder to bow in humility and gratitude in order to become who God has loved us into being. Yet bowing down is seen as weakness, humility is often little more than false piety and surrender implies giving up. To do any of those things with perceptions like that and to do it with gratitude seems a cultural impossibility to me. Well, how about an improbability – nothing is impossible with God.

    That is why I really like your continued use of the word kin-dom and its call to unity.

    Thank you again for your call to not only think about these things, but to act upon them as well.

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