Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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7/31/11-Homily-Feed the Least Among Us


18 Sunday A – July 31, 2011 – Feed the Least Among Us

Is 55:1-3, Ps 145:8-9, 15-18, Rom 8:35, 37-39, Mt 14:13-21

Today’s biblical texts

Just how big is the gap between rich and poor people in this country? Here is one example. This past week the Pew Research Center  reported that the median wealth of white households is 18-20 times that of Hispanic and black households respectively. What might this mean in our kitchen cupboards?

According to the Hunger Action Network of NYS eighteen percent of Americans reported they could not afford to feed their families in 2010. [Here I asked 18 people to stand. I then said that if this assembly represented 100% of the US population look at these people who could not feed their families last year] Further, in recent months the demand on emergency food programs in this State increased by over 50% with more than 3 million people needing help.

We often think the global south is where the most impoverished people live. It is hard for us to imagine that so much hunger exists in this country. Last week our Bishop, Howard Hubbard, who is Chair of the US Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, sent a letter to the House of Representatives reminding Congress that the central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects the least among us. The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first, he wrote. [1]

All four gospels contain a version of the story we heard this morning — the feeding of the multitudes. The thousands who followed Jesus, most of whom led oppressed and impoverished lives, were looking for some good news, a bit of inspiration from an itinerant preacher and miracle worker. The disciples themselves, tired and irritated, complained to Jesus why should they worry about feeding a hungry crowd of four or five thousand children, women and men. Jesus, looked them in the eye and said to them in so many words, “Work together and figure something out.” It was probably the first time the disciples discovered that to follow Jesus would involve hard work.

This gospel is less about Jesus multiplying loaves and fish. It is more about how he inspired his disciples and thousands of others on that hillside to share what they had with “the least among them” — those who had little or nothing. One commentary suggested that as the disciples passed through the crowds people added food to the baskets and those that had nothing took what they needed. We are reminded of the Israelites starving in the Sinai desert and how they were fed with manna. Jesus is like that prophet Elisha who said to his disciples, “Give to the people and let them eat.” (2 Kings 4:42-4)

The feeding of the multitudes is an allegorical reference to the eucharist and our hopes for the future. We once thought of the Mass in sacrificial terms only. Now we also understand it to be a foretaste of the eternal banquet to be shared in the kin-dom of God … where no one is hungry.

Our liturgy, then, affirms our common bond and nourishes us to hasten that kin-dom by sharing our goods with one another. If we are not doing this much after we leave church one must ask why do we come. Discipleship is hard. Our parish food pantry is a wonderful model for participating in this mission of the church.

There are, of course, different kinds of hunger in the world. [2] Along with food insecurity people hunger for spiritual sustenance. We search for something deep inside that says everything will be OK if you trust in God, that God will provide. We seek something that stirs in our hearts, our minds and bodies the belief that Jesus Christ is the bread of life and that we will not go hungry or ever be thirsty.

Jesus fed thousands both spiritually and physically without prejudice. He was compassionate and generous and encouraged others to be the same. As Congress and the White House continue to debate the best way to raise the debt ceiling and reduce spending our Bishop Howard Hubbard gives us good advice. Feed the least among us.

_____

1 Hubbard and Bishop Stephen Blair (Stockton, CA) sent the letter. Blair is the chair of the US Bishops’ Committee Domestic Justice and Human Development.

2 See Ratzinger, Joseph Jesus of Nazareth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007) 267


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7/10/11-Homily-What Seeds Are Being Sown?


15th Sunday in Ordinary Time A – July 10, 2011 – What Seeds Are Being Sown?

Is 55:10-11, Lk 8:8 (65:10-14), Rom 8:18-23, Mt 13:1-23 or 13:1-9

Several years ago a neighbor of mine planted some flowers. She and her husband have since moved away but every spring and summer I continue to enjoy the seemingly never ending flourish of those spectacular perennials.

Today this gospel, you noticed, contains the same message as the first reading and the psalm: if the seed falls on good ground it will yield a bountiful harvest. However, it is the second reading that raises some questions. It says all creation is groaning in labor pains and we ourselves, even though gifted by the spirit, are also groaning. What does this have to do with sowing seeds? Are we called to give birth to something new?

At a recent architects’ convention Pulitzer Prize author Tom Friedman mentioned the “grasshopper generation” (the term was coined by Kurt Andersen) — which is eating up the prosperity that was left to us. Friedman’s keynote address was sprinkled with facts and figures from his book, Hot, Flat and Crowded. [1]

(If your summertime reading list isn’t too full I recommend Friedman’s book for a global perspective on what might happen if the right people do not sow the right seed on the right ground.)

Friedman argues that a green revolution which will help reduce our carbon footprint can regenerate America. In one example, about our dependence on oil, he said every time we fill our gas tanks or buy products wrapped in plastic we are supporting and tolerating countries who, treat their women badly, who deprive their people of civil rights and who teach their children to be intolerant of other faiths. [2] Oh, how all creation is groaning!

So, do we stop driving? Probably not. Can we avoid using petroleum based products? Very hard to do. Referring to the biblical story of Noah, Friedman says, unlike Noah we are the ones who are creating the flood — today’s global economic catastrophes. We need to act responsibly, like Noah, to “create arks, not floods.” [3]

The passage from Isaiah this morning is understood as an analogy for what is supernatural. [4] Referring to the hope for a fertile and fruitful earth, the text transports us from whatever our present situation might be into a world of unimaginable possibilities. How can we sow seeds on good ground so future generations can take delight tomorrow in the flowers that we enjoy today?

I know. This interpretation of God’s Word presents a serious quandary for you and me. Yet, the second reading reminds us we are the ones filled with a holy Spirit; we are the ones called to be a new revelation of God’s presence. If we are the ones dragging down creation, which is implied in that passage, [5] how can we be hope for the future? The point of the gospel is that in spite of failures and indifferences the message of Jesus will win out.

What is the Spirit prompting us to do? When we leave this church today — after being nourished by community, word and Eucharist — maybe we can find some time to sit down with friends and family members, spouses and partners and ask this question. What one thing can we do this week to plant a seed that will nourish the earth for future generations. What one thing would make this increasingly hot, crowded and flat world more like the kin-dom [6] of God?

___

1 Friedman, Thomas. Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution- And How It can Renew America (New York: Picador, 2009)

2 Friedman, Ibid., 141

3 Friedman, Ibid., 181

4 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Third Edition (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2006) 154-57

5 A phrase taken from Fuller, Ibid.

6 Kin-dom is that halcyon  place where all people treat the natural world and one another with care and respect.


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7/3/11-Homily-Revolutionaries for Liberty


14 Sunday A – July 3, 2011 – Revolutionaries for Liberty

Zec 9:9,9-10, Ps 145:1-2,8-11,13-14, Rom 8:9,11-13, Mt 11:25-30

Complete New American Bible biblical texts for today.

Ahmed Maher, cofounder of the April Sixth Youth Movement in Egypt, was one of the organizers of the January 25th Revolution that took place in Tahrir Square in Cairo. A few weeks ago, while traveling in the Middle East, I was at a meeting with Ahmed. He described the collaboration between the April 6th Youth Movement, labor unions, journalists and Parliament leading up to the Revolution. Ahmed said the Revolution was successful because, after years of suffering under Hosni Mubarek, who ignored citizens, everyone’s demands were unified.

King George III ignored the demands of our original colonies. On July 2nd in 1776 in Philadelphia, PA, the Continental Congress voted to “dissolve the connection with Great Britain.” [1] Two days later the Declaration of Independence, explaining the reasons for the separation, was delivered to Washington. John Adams wrote, “We are in the very midst of a revolution, the most remarkable … in the history of nations.” [2]

As I have in the past, I recommend we all reread and discuss with others the Declaration of Independence during this holiday weekend.

My yoke is easy, my burden is light. These are the words attributed to Jesus in today’s gospel. Throughout his life this revolutionary Jew was slowly changing the way people thought about their lives. Scholar John Pilch writes that Jesus was presenting an alternative to Jewish peasants whose lives were governed by land owners, Roman legislation and the 613 commandments (see the books of Genesis and Deuteronomy) enforced by the Pharisees. Jesus served as a mediator between humanity and God who would ultimately free them from all oppression in life. [3]

What are the burdens, the yokes, in our lives?  While many people in America are struggling to make ends meet others are thankful for their blessings. We take for granted that we can travel, assemble and speak freely; that we can practice a religion, get an education, start a business and consume goods that are available to most of us.

Nevertheless, it is embarrassing that we Americans use and waste so much of the world’s resources like oil and water; that we have so many unemployed, hungry and homeless people, that we spend so much money on the military industry, that not all of us are treated equally because of class, gender, lifestyle, race or religion. There is so much to be concerned about in America we cannot afford to be complacent. I wrestle with this question all the time: Where does our Church fit in?

Two weeks ago, on Trinity Sunday, we considered the Triune God as an indelible song made up of individual but distinct notes mysteriously combined to strike a memorable, inescapable chord in our lives. Last week we pondered how we might reinvent ourselves, the Church, as the body and blood of Christ, to be more present to one another. Now this week, you and I are challenged to live by the Spirit, to put to death the imperfect deeds of the world, to take the yoke off the shoulders of those who are burdened in any way we can. United by our faith and gratitude to God, none of us can do this alone.

The first scripture reading today included the promise that wars would be banished and nations would be at peace. Throughout history people have acted to bring this vision into reality. Whether in ancient civilizations, the time of Jesus, in 1776 in this land, in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere today, all revolutions depend on people working together, taking risks for liberty and justice.

As members of this Church we continue to be mindful of our responsibilities to lighten the load for each other. Can we dare to find radical ways to bring about, what we call the kin-dom of God, a land of opportunity and liberty for all?

___

1 This document, “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in General Congress assembled,” was written by Richard Henry Lee

2 McCullough, David. 1776. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005) 135-6

3 Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1995) 106-108