Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – January 29, 2012 – Harden Not Your Hearts


4 Ordinary B – January 29, 2012 – Harden Not Your Hearts

Complete biblical texts for today

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 and Mark 1:21-28

What does your calendar look like? Seldom does a month go by when there is not a day or week dedicated to a civic or religious event. January was very crowded and February is not any better. The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple falls on Ground Hog Day, which is followed by a World Day for Consecrated Life, which happens to fall on Super Bowl Sunday, which is also Boy Scouts Day, which is a week before the World Day of the Sick followed by World Marriage Sunday, which comes just before Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday!

Add these events to our personal calendars, birthdays, anniversaries, school calendars and work calendars, email and text messages, Tweeting and Facebook friending, streaming videos and endless RSS feeds it is little wonder why in the words of Pico Iyer about the “Joy of Quiet” [1] most of us, young and old alike, would do almost anything to find time and space just to be alone and think.

What I keep hearing some people say in between and after liturgies is that there is simply too much going on in their lives. There is no time for a sacred or spiritual experience much less listening to what God might have to say. The first reading today paints a picture of Moses telling the people that whoever does not listen to God’s word will be reprimanded. He was warning them not to follow the lifestyles of strangers already living in the land promised to the Israelites by God. The psalmist provides another admonition, “If today you hear God’s voice you had better listen.” Maybe we need to look again at all we do to see if there is any connection between spirituality and our never ending stream of information and “to do” lists.

Searching for spirituality is a popular pastime and most writers agree that Christian spirituality is rooted in the word of God. We read or hear the text and are expected to let it soak in and contemplate it without analysis. We try to do so quietly, thinking about the time, the place, the situation in which the text was written. What was the author trying to say to a certain group of people? What is that text saying to us today? Worship can provide us with an opportunity to settle down, pray, and contemplate. Our ritual actions, the tone of the music, the message in the homily, our common prayers can help us enter into a sacred timezone … unless our liturgies are also too busy.

The contemplation of God’s word is the threshold, the meeting room, where we embrace the God who embraces us. Allowing God into our lives can (but not always) cause a transformation in our lives. That conversion makes us want to do something publicly to advance God’s word in society.

We read in the bible that whenever people tuned into what God was saying, something happened to them. If they hardened their hearts their lives were unchanged. Listening carefully to God’s word also can be dangerous. It can cause us to question the status quo, to counter injustice in our communities, to grow in the world of new possibilities. It can challenge us personally — our routines, our habits, our lifestyles. It can even spark debate with family and friends

God’s word by itself does not work miracles; it is not the complete prescription for instant success or holiness. However, when absorbed and allowed to work within us over time, it can be a wonderful palliative for ridding our lives, and the lives of others, of the anxieties, injustices and fears that prevent us from our own human development.

It may be true that there are just too many things going on in our lives. They are not going to go away. We multitask just to keep up. There is no reason, however, to separate those activities, whatever they are, from our spiritual lives. By understanding our ordinary routines as opportunities for spiritual transformation we may find that God is speaking to us in everything we do.

Theologian Teilhard de Chardin once wrote, “We are not human beings in search of a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings immersed in a human experience.”

____

1 Iyer, Pico, “The Joy of Quiet” in The New York Times, December 29, 2012

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Homily – January 22, 2012 – That All May Be One


Third Sunday in Ordinary Time B – January 22, 2012 

That All May Be One 

Today’s complete biblical texts

Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 25:4-9; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Tomorrow Chinese communities all over the world celebrate a New Year! The event was once based on a complex lunar calendar that served as a religious and social guide. Chinese believe a new year is a time to balance tensions, polar opposites — the yin yang — necessary for living in harmony with one another. This new year is the year of the Dragon. People born under this auspicious sign are considered to be very influential.

We don’t know if Jonah, the protagonist in our first reading, was born in the year of the Dragon. Maybe he was. Were Jesus and his disciples even aware of the zodiac signs in the Chinese calendar that had been in existence 1400 years before Jesus was born? Maybe they were. What the bible does tell us is that, like Jonah, Jesus and his followers went out of their way to influence people. How do we, as a church, influence people with what we believe, with our values systems?

God summoned a reluctant Jonah to go into the corrupt city of Nineveh. This story is not about Jonah being swallowed by a whale. This story was written to influence the Israelites who were trying to regain a sense of identity after being held captive for so long. They had to rethink their old traditions within very different historical and cultural contexts. [1]

Scattered all over the Middle East (the Diaspora) the Israelites found themselves in unfamiliar circumstances. They developed prejudices against people who did not practice their religion or share their values. This story is less about the Ninevites and more about those Israelites who were developing strong prejudices against foreigners.

John Shelby Spong in writing about Jonah’s message to the Ninevites points out that no one is beyond the reach of the all embracing love of God.  [2] The irony in the story is that Jonah himself, like other Israelites, who were prejudiced against the Gentiles, was intolerant of strangers.

Acknowledging that we all are probably prejudiced in some way what is expected of us as this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity winds down? It ends this coming Wednesday, the feast of the conversion of St. Paul who was influential in spreading Christianity. Fr. Paul Wattson, an Episcopalian priest who converted to Catholicism, started this week in 1908. [3] His vision of uniting all Christians is still influential.

This year’s theme is “we will be changed because of the victory of Christ.”  It focuses on personal and communal transformations. It challenges our assumptions and prejudices. It alleviates our fears of other religions. Benedict, the bishop of Rome, said that this Week of Prayer is a time “when people of different traditions meet and work together for the victory, in Christ, over all that is sin, evil, injustice, and that violates human dignity.” [4] That’s what we are summoned to do as Christians.

Like our Jewish ancestors we Catholics today are struggling to refine our identity (so many have left us). We struggle to clarify our role in the Post-Modern world. Who are we in a world that is changing so much culturally and historically? We heard in the second reading that the present world is passing away. Particularly during this Week we think about our relations with people of other Christian religions and what we hold in common with them. [This is not to ignore non-Christians but to focus on Christians]

As we think about unity we cannot overlook what divides us. Apart from the advances made over the last one hundred years we also have to address those obstacles to full communion with other Christians: different interpretations of our core teachings, who may or may not lead us in administration and in worship, and even the choice of words in our liturgical texts.

Whether any one of us was born in the year of the Dragon all baptized people are called to be influential in working for Christian unity. It is not just about praying together or syncretizing our belief systems or giving them up. The world requires a vigorous and united effort to eliminate prejudices and injustices. There are 2.2 billion Christians in the world. Half of these are Catholic. Achieving unity and solidarity among all Christians is one challenge. Achieving unity and solidarity among all Catholics is another issue. We have to work on both tasks.

The beginning of a new year is always a good time to resolve to improve the way we work, study, worship and relate to others. Harmony in the world is the goal of the Chinese Year of the Dragon. Our goal is somewhat similar — not only respect for all Christians but for all human beings.  

_____

1 Ackerman, James in Attridge, Harold W. (Ed.) The Harper Collins Study Bible NRSV (San Francisco: Harper) 1989, p. 1234

2 Spong, John Shelby. Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World (NY: Harper One) 2011, p. 148

3 The Protestant Ecumenical Movement started in Edinburgh at the World Missionary Conference in 1910

4 Benedict XVI. Reflection on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Rome, January 18, 2012.


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Homily – New Year’s Day 2012 C.E. – Milk and Love


Mary, Mother of God B – January 1, 2012 C.E. – Milk and Love

Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67: 2,3,5,6,8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

In ancient Egyptian tradition we find images of the goddess Isis breastfeeding her son Horus. Horus was the god of Egypt and a great cosmic power, the creator of everything. In ancient Hindu religion we find Yashoda suckling her son Krishna, the god who destroys all pain and sin. In the Christian religion we have images of Mary breastfeeding Jesus the incarnate god, the messiah promised by the prophets of ancient Israel. How similar are these motifs, these stories.

The depiction of Mary nursing Jesus is very popular in Portugal, Spain, and Italy but strangely and curiously never seen in the United States. What a wonderful story it tells. Imagine a peasant girl like Mary nourishing the infant God Jesus with her own warm, sweet milk.

A member of this parish, Jeanne Qualters, sent me a poem about Mary, the mother of God. It is entitled Annunciation by Denise Levertov. 

to bear in her womb infinite weight and lightness; 

to carry in hidden, finite inwardness, nine months of Eternity; 

to contain in slender vase of being, the sum of power –

in narrow flesh, the sum of light.

Then bring to birth, push out into air, a [Man] child needing, like any other,

milk and love –

but who was God.

There is probably no more affectionate and loving experience than looking into the tiny face of a newborn baby cradled in your hands. What a feeling of warmth and tenderness when nestling that infant’s smooth face gently against your own. We can imagine the joy Mary felt when she gave birth to Jesus and nursed him. Mary treasured the acclamations of the shepherds that her son was the savior. Those words also troubled her as she wondered what was in store for him.

The same is true for every parent. Gazing at any infant today raises questions about what may lie ahead for him or her. What will life on this planet be for our children? Will there be enough for them to eat and drink? How will they afford education or find jobs? Will they be safe? In his message for today, the world day of peace, Benedict, the bishop of Rome, called upon present generations to create conditions that will offer future generations opportunities to fully realize themselves and to build civilizations of truth, freedom, love and justice for all persons.

How can you and I create these conditions?

Levertov began her poem with this line, “Hail Space for the Uncontained God.” Mary found space in her life to bear the prince of peace. What does it mean to trust in God and have a relationship with that God who lives well beyond any limit or boundary we might impose? We do need images to make God real in our lives — mother, father, lover, friend, creator, navigator, instigator. Do we also unwittingly try to confine God just to meet our expectations?

Mary the Mother of God cuddled and nourished Jesus like other goddesses mentioned earlier who breastfed their sons. Fragile at birth their children grew to become heroes like Jesus became a hero in our tradition. Every time we gather to worship we experience a similar intimacy when we embrace the word of God and share the body and blood of Christ. In this uncontained, eternal space, you and I find the strength and courage to carry on regardless of dire circumstances or predictions.

We begin another year on a day dedicated to the mother of God and world peace. We look to Mary and to one another to find ways to make space in our lives, and the lives of our children; to work for justice, personally and globally. Mary looked into her infant’s face and saw the radiance of God. Complex as it may seem we see in each other the splendor of God’s face. In the word’s of Levertov the poet, you and I respond to one another, providing each other with basic human needs — “milk and love.”