Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


4/23/11-Homily-Easter Vigil-Daring to Influence


The complete New American Bible texts for this Vigil

Rob Bell made the list. He’s an Evangelical pastor who is rethinking Christianity in America. Feisal Abdul Rauf made the list. He is the imam who supported a new community center near Ground Zero. Dharma Master Cheng Yen made the list. He teaches that suffering is inescapable but that humans have the potential to overcome it. [1]

What list you ask? Who are these people? Who picked them? According to TIME magazine these are three of the most influential people in the world this year. These religious leaders and 97 others are “activists, reformers and researchers, heads of state, scientists, artists, athletes and economists. Their ideas spark dialogue and dissent and sometimes, even, revolution.” [2]

We are gathered this evening to remember a long list of people who have influenced our lives — Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Moses, Miriam, the prophets, saints, martyrs, Jesus of Nazareth, Mary of Magdala. This, the holiest night of our liturgical year, is all about us. I would like to add the Church of St. Vincent de Paul to the TIME magazine list of 100 influential people [congregation applause], each of us adults and children alike. Why should we be on the list? Let’s just remember what we are doing these days.

On Holy Thursday, our shared supper, our washing of one another’s feet, our Eucharistic feast was linked inextricably with what we do in our food pantry, our seasonal giving trees, our collection of blankets, clothing and other sundries for those who need them.

Yesterday, on Good Friday, our embrace of the cross was linked with our letter writing campaigns to civic leaders appealing for justice and dignity for all people. It affirmed our relations with our sister parish in Panama whose way of the cross is filled with daily suffering.

Tonight in the story of creation we remember that our motherly God gave birth to this planet and all human beings. The texts from the Hebrew bible this evening remind us how tenuous our love affair with this ineffable God can be at times. It takes constant communication and renewed commitment to maintain a healthy relationship with God.

Our compressed celebration of the life story of Jesus Christ, the last supper, the crucifixion and now his bodily resurrection reminds us of those who witnessed these events. They have influenced us. Now we are enacting these rituals not as spectators but as actors in the continual unfolding of our story – this paschal mystery.

The Spirit of God ignites the Easter fire, stirs the baptismal waters and seals in the gifts we share for the common good. This holy breath makes the very body and blood of Christ come alive in our sacred food and drink given to us to be portioned out to all.

Tonight Kelly King and Ann Lothrop will plunge into this story [by baptism].  With Robert Rosborough they will celebrate the gifts of the Spirit in their lives [by confirmation]. For the first time all three of them will partake in the spiritually nutritious banquet of life [the Eucharist].

Invigorated by their journey you and I renew our faith and our commitment to be protagonists in this story – this paschal event. In doing so you and I add ourselves to a list of influential people who make things happen in our homes, our schools, our places of work. We bring the ideals of this paschal story into the public forum — both church and state. Each one of us does so in a particular way.

While there are other things that have an impact on our lives like illness, earthquakes and the economy our chance for survival depends on how well we rise up to the occasion. There is a banner over our front door that challenges us each time we enter the church: how bold and daring we are to advance the kin-dom of God here on earth.


1 The 2011 TIME 100,28757,2066367,00.html

2 Ibid



4/17/11-Homily-Do Not Abandon God

PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION A – April 17, 2011 – Do Not Abandon God

Matthew 21:1-11 (Procession), Isaiah 50:4-7, Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24, Philippians 2:6-11, Matthew 26:14-27-27:66

Complete New American Bible texts

“Why have you forsaken me?” We have just heard these very critical words uttered by Jesus while dying on the cross. What does it mean to be abandoned? Close to home it might mean something like this. Long term unemployed people abandoned by state legislatures. Children deserted by parents who cannot care for them. Elderly dying parents abandoned by their children. The earth scrapped by reckless human behavior.

According to some scholars the words of Jesus in the gospels, about being abandoned by God, point to the purpose of his death on the cross — “it was the redemptive act.” [1] The paradox is this: God abandoned Jesus who suffered a most humiliating death so that God might save us from eternal death.

This event on the cross cannot be separated from the life of Jesus anymore than our death is isolated from the lives we live. During his short lifetime Jesus showed concern for poor persons, outcasts and sinners. He showered them with acts of redemption — exorcisms, healing and forgiveness. [2] Jesus’s death on the cross was the ultimate expression of his unwavering commitment to change people’s lives for the better. He was executed for his revolutionary ways much like Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero and the five women martyred in El Salvador.

This is why we gather here every week to listen to the Word of God and to share a holy meal — to learn how not to abandon sick parents, homeless children and unemployed neighbors. We don’t have to be martyrs. Our small day to day acts of goodness do matter.

The stories we hear in the bible are not just about what happened in the past. By repeating these mystery stories we can connect them to what is going on in our own time. Our liturgical life, composed of ritual actions like baptism, reconciliation and eucharist, unite us and link us with these scriptures and the God who initiated them. Over time we come to realize that the biblical stories we love are just as much about us as they are about the heroes and villains in them.

Deciding just how to connect with these biblical stories can be difficult. We easily get impatient and angry. We sometimes think more about ourselves than about others. The reading from Isaiah today, known as the third suffering servant song, is a preface to the passion story. The Israelites who once happily thought God was leading them to the promised land found themselves held hostage by more powerful ruthless nations. Thinking that God abandoned them, they renounced God. They did not want to hear anything more from prophets about being faithful to God. They cried, why, God, have you abandoned us? That is what happens to us, don’t you think? Sometimes we just give up and abandon our mission.

This holy week is about making decisions when we come to different junctions in our lives. On Thursday we will commemorate the last supper and we will affirm our decision not to abandon hungry people but to wash away the injustices of the world. On Good Friday we will venerate and embrace the cross of death which is also the cross life and we will affirm our decision to replace suffering in the world with hope. During the Easter Vigil we will light the world with a new fire, listen to the stories of salvation in the bible, announce the resurrection of Christ, welcome new members into our community and we will affirm our decision to renew our commitment to advance the kin-dom of God on earth.

To be abandoned is a terrible experience. The history of God tells us that in some mysterious way God, in the end, will not leave us stranded. By not forsaking one another we will not abandon God.


1 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Third Edition, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2006,  55-59

2 Fiorenza, Frances Schüssler. “Redemption” in Komanchak, J., Collins, M. and Lane, D. The New Dictionary of Theology (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 1991, 839


Homily for April 10, 2011 – The Lazarus Syndrome

5 Lent A – April 10, 2011 – The Lazarus Syndrome

Ezekiel 37:12-14, Psalm 130:1-8, Romans 8:8-11, John 11:1-45

Complete biblical texts

Several years ago a 45 year-old woman in Colombia had no vital signs and was pronounced dead. Later, in the morgue a worker noticed the woman was moving and sent her back to the hospital. The woman lived on. [1]

Although only several cases have been documented since the early 1980s, medical experts believe this phenomenon happens more often than not. The medical profession calls it the spontaneous return of circulation or the “Lazarus Syndrome.” [2]

During these final weeks of the Lenten season we heard stories about the Samaritan woman and a man born blind who took life changing risks in their encounters with the messiah. Today we have the story of Jesus, Lazarus and his sisters.

This parable is about relationships and, in particular, how two women with “bold and robust faith” [3] took the initiative to tell Jesus about their brother. Martha and Mary were anxious. They knew about the miracles Jesus had done for others and thought, “Hey, we’re close friends, maybe he could do one for us.” However, scholars add that the purpose of this Lazarus story is to present a bigger picture. It is less about the raising of the dead and more about the search for life. The gospel is not about a “freak accident of nature but [a] demonstration of God’s power for life.” [4]

John Pilch writes that Jesus is indeed “the resurrection and the life” (v. 24). However, resurrection here does not mean the restoration of life to a corpse, it entails rather a transformation of life. [5] Martha and Mary struggled with death and were searching for new possibilities in their lives.

This gospel was written toward the end of the first century to convince people that Jesus Christ was the messiah. We who already believe need an occasional jolt to resuscitate our bodies and minds, our spiritual selves. We ask today how does this gospel have something to do with our relationships in the kin-dom of God?

Our country is a good place to start. Recent news may have focussed on federal budget cuts and job losses. What is more alarming are the emerging cultural attitudes that appear to celebrate personal agendas rather than those of the common good. Whose welfare are we really concerned about?

Is the institutional church in need of resuscitation? Changing the words in our liturgy may do little to unite Catholics on issues that matter most — dwindling congregations, drifting teenage members, injustices in our own religion and the lack of creative leaders willing to take risks to refresh age old traditions.

The psalm this morning calls for corporate redemption. We cannot blame those at the top, whether it be church or state officials, without making an effort to resuscitate our own lives. Lent is the time to make such adjustments.

To admit the need for personal and communal transformation is a challenge. Three good examples are in our midst. Kelly, Ann, and Rob are experiencing significant changes in their adult lives. Their development began with answering a call from an illusive, ineffable God. It continues with a bold and risky effort to shake free from old foundations, to break the bonds of death’s stronghold, to help one another trade in dried up bones (Ezekiel 3) for new ones.

The Lazarus Syndrome is more common than we think. We all are in need of resuscitation at one time or another. Let’s just hope someone is nearby.

1 Salazar, Hernando. “¿Colombiana experimentó Síndrome de Lázaro?” (in Spanish). BBC Online. Retrieved 26 December 2010.


3 Newsom, Carol and  Ringe, Sharon. The Women’s Bible Commentary (London: Westminster John Knox) 1992, (297-299)

4 Ibid.

5 Pilch, John J. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1995) 61-63


Homily for April 3, 2011 – Look for the Light

4 Lent A – April 3, 2011 – Look for the Light

1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a, Psalm 23: 1-3a, 3b-6, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41

Complete biblical texts

A few years ago a man started playing a violin in a Washington Metro station. In 45 minutes only six people stopped to listen. No one noticed it was the world famous Joshua Bell playing beautifully, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

You might be saying, well, if it were hip hop or blues or jazz more people would have stopped. Good point. The Washington Post sponsored this experiment precisely to learn about people’s perceptions, tastes and priorities. One conclusion from the study suggested that if people do not take time to notice the beautiful things around them how much else could they be missing in life.

The gospel of John deals with the issues of an early Christian community which, having been expelled from the synagogues and still being persecuted, felt alienated from the world and hostile toward outsiders. [1] The story about the man born blind is a counterpoint and reminds us of last week’s gospel about Photina the Samaritan woman. This week the blind man did the same thing she did. Both of them took life changing risks in recognizing Jesus as the savior.

The story invites us to reflect on how we perceive what is going on around us. We spend most of our day interacting with designed environments: clothing, packaging, commercials, news media and devices plugged into our ears. Some studies tell us most humans miss about 90% of what is going on in their daily routines. People in that Washington subway were too much in a hurry, distracted or busy to notice something beautiful. The more we get overloaded with tasks and information, the more we disconnect from others.

In the words of Annie Dillard, “Beauty and grace are performed whether we will or sense them. The least thing we can do is try to be there.” [2] God is present to us all the time whether we want God there or not. The least we can do is recognize God’s presence in many, sometimes surprising, ways — in changing seasons, little children and elderly parents, in wealthy and poor persons; in far away strangers and close friends, in good times and in bad. We can be more aware of this ever present, all loving God by slowing down, prioritizing tasks and learning that we cannot do everything.

Some say this is unrealistic. Multitasking is how we get a lot done and there aren’t enough hours in the day. Yes, these arguments may be true. However, what are we missing by not trying to alter our priorities, tasks and workloads?

In the first reading David, a ruddy shepherd, was the least likely candidate to lead God’s people. He was probably quite content tending to his sheep. Yet, God chose him to do something that radically changed his life. We may not get to do all that we want to do in life and sometimes things don’t go our way. What matters is that we do not ignore the presence of God in all that surrounds us. Then, we can be a light to those around us.

Annie Dillard also wrote, “I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.” There are three people in our congregation who are doing exactly that. Ann, Kelly and Rob are fast approaching membership in the Catholic church. Attentive to the brightness of the Son of God their response is to take a bold life changing step, to be lights to the world.

You and I can follow the same light to see a world of new possibilities presented by God. Like David, the Samaritan woman and the man born blind we can find a way in the busy subways of our lives to notice the beautiful things around us.

1 Brown, Raymond. The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York: Paulist) 1979, 72

2 Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim At Tinker Creek (NY: Harper) 1974