Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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6/26/11-Homily-The Body and Blood of Christ


Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ A – June 26, 2011 – Don’t Fence Us In

Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a, Ps 147;12-15,19-20, 1 Cor 10:16-17, Jn 6:51-58

Complete New American Bible texts for today.

Some of you here might remember Cole Porter’s 1934 song, “Don’t Fence Me In.” [1] The cowboy in the lyrics wants to be turned loose under the Western skies. No one likes to be fenced in, shut out or denied the right to move about freely; not a cowboy, not you, not me, not even a female fox. A female fox?

In the opera by Janacek, performed this past week by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, The Cunning Little Vixen is a female fox — a feminist female fox at that. Caught by a forester, she simply refused to be fenced in. After escaping her pen she encourages all hens to liberate themselves from a greedy rooster. [2] This cunning fox meant trouble for those who captured her.

This magical Doug Fitch production is an example of conductor Alan Gilbert’s commitment to reinvent American orchestras. However, what, you might ask, does “The Cunning Little Vixen” have to do with our celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ?

Today’s feast has roots in the middle ages, during philosophical and religious debates over how bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood. Interestingly, the very early Christian church was not preoccupied with such details. They remembered, as they gathered for a holy meal, that God’s work continued in them through the gifts of the Holy Spirit and in concert with the mission of Jesus. That’s how Christ remained present.

The scriptures we heard this morning do not use words like transubstantiation to explain how the body and blood of Christ becomes present to us today. In the first reading we heard about a hungry, thirsty and often petulant people who themselves were fenced in … in a parched desert. The story suggests that God rescued them with food and water from heaven. The readings from Paul to the Corinthians and the gospel of John imply that the bread and wine we share during the liturgy are also from heaven. Whoever shares in the real presence of Christ will have eternal life. So, aren’t you glad you are here this morning?

Today’s solemnity gives us an opportunity to ponder a mystery similar to but different from the Trinity. Can we imagine that the presence of Jesus Christ, like the cunning little vixen, simply cannot be fenced in? No definition can fully explain such a mystery of faith. Yet, because of our own curiosity and, perhaps, the grip that medieval theology still has on us, we tend to confine the real presence of Christ only to the elements, the bread and wine, we share at Mass and then reserve in our tabernacles.

It is helpful to remember the body and blood we share do not primarily refer to things but to a person and to an event. [3] As scholar Herbert McCabe writes, the bread becomes the body of Christ which is the kingdom (kin-dom) of God. [4] When you and I celebrate the Eucharist we are in a process of marching to and becoming identified with that kingdom.

In other words each one of us constantly becomes Eucharist, Christ’s body and blood for the world and, like Christ, we cannot be fenced in. Our prayers are not only for the transformation of our gifts of bread and wine but also of ourselves. As we are nourished and united by our sacrament we can feed and free others. We provide hope and possibilities for people locked out of jobs, for hungry and homeless children, for those with debilitating diseases, for gays and lesbians still confined by cultural climates, for people in the Middle East deprived of liberties, and for ourselves imprisoned by our own lack of self confidence as a church.

Alan Gilbert’s choice to present this fanciful opera was an example of his desire to reinvent the American orchestra. He took a risk to make the orchestra more versatile, to make it more attractive especially to younger audiences. When I heard this opera the other night I thought — how can we reinvent the church and our liturgy to be more versatile, more hospitable and attractive to people young and old alike? Are we willing to take a risk? This is the question for us this week. How do we re-imagine ourselves as the body and blood of Christ?

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1 Lyrics by Robert Fletcher

2 Tommasini, Anthony. “An Impish Creature That Won’t Be Fenced In” in New York Times, June 24, 2011, C1.

3 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Third Edition (Collegevile: Liturgical Press) 2006. Pp. 112-115

4 McCabe, Herbert. “Eucharist Change,” in Priests and People 8 (June 1994) 220 in Mitchell, Nathan, Real Presence: The Work of the Eucharist (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications) 1998, 220.


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6/19/11-Homily-Trinity Sunday


Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity A – June 19, 2011 – Father’s Day

Ex 34:4b-6,8-9, Dan 3:52-56, 2 Cor 13:11-13, John 3:16-18

Complete New American Bible Texts for Today

If you are a Mets, Yankee or Red Sox fan chances are at the ballpark you might see someone holding up a sign that reads John 3:16. We just heard that verse. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.” Although the Holy Spirit is not mentioned, this passage is a traditional reference to the triune God. The word Trinity is not found in the bible; so these words are important.

Today is the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. I know you lay awake each night trying to understand how three persons are packed into one God. It is one of those mysterious articles of faith. Still, we constantly refer to the Trinity especially in church. We bless and baptize ourselves using the Trinitarian formula. We greet one another at the beginning of our liturgy with the words taken from today’s second reading, “The grace of Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Spirit be with all of you.”

The scripture scholar Reginald Fuller says, although not clearly expressed, the doctrine of the Trinity is found in sacred scripture. Fuller writes, the holy spirit prompts believers to have faith in Jesus Christ as the one in whom God has acted. [1]

So how do we imagine this Triune God acting in our lives? Is it that of a male parent (a Father)? A revolutionary Jew (the Son)? A dove (the Holy Spirit)? Somewhat humorously, theologian Sandra Schneider describes this image of the Trinity as two men and a bird. Are there other ways to relate to the Trinity in our church, in the world — beyond a conventional understanding of this Triune God?

Most often we tend to distinguish the three persons and connect to one or two favorites. Many Christians have wonderful relations with the first person – God the creator. The Israelites never uttered the word God but today we call God by many names: Father, Mother, Creator, Lover, Navigator. Other Christians focus on Jesus, the second person, the historic revelation or manifestation of God. They see Jesus as friend, brother, miracle worker, and, of course, savior. Some have a devotion to the Spirit. Thought of as a strong but gentle wind, this third person gifts and moves us along day by day.

Theologian Elizabeth Johnson suggests that we could be missing out on something by relating only to a popular but limited idea of the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit acting individually. The early Christians did not think in these terms. They experienced, in one God, the ongoing gifts of the Spirit which were connected to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. [2]

Johnson proposes that a contemporary appreciation of the triune Godhead might be found in rethinking how each person (of the Trinity) is an integral part of one composition.

I think musical notes can help us grasp this idea. With Marie’s [3] help on the piano, think of the first person of the Trinity as one musical note (The C note is played). The second person as another note. (The E note is played) The third person as still another. (The G note is played) Played together as one chord we can imagine each person of the Trinity as familiar notes in a favorite song. (The entire C chord is played)

We can also hear an interdependence taking place. Listen now and imagine all three persons in one God as an infinite whirlwind of sound that embraces and loves us. (The entire C chord is played up and down the keyboard) 

By relating to one person, say God the creator or father or mother, we are also relating to the second person (Jesus Christ) and the third (Spirit). None of these three persons, although distinct, can be thought of as acting in our lives independently of the other. Creation, redemption and gifting are the actions of the one Trinity and each person within it at the same time. Pray to the Father, or the Son or the Holy Spirit and you get all three whether you like it or not. Scholars refer to these divine actions as the “economy of salvation.” For you and me … its a bargain we cannot pass up.

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1 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Third Edition (Collegevile: Liturgical Press) 2006. pp. 109-112

2 Johnson, Elizabeth A. Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God. (NY: Continuum) 2008, 205 ff.

3 Marie Bernadette is director of liturgy and music at St. Vincent de Paul’s parish