Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 25 March 2012 – Hope Behind Calvary


5 Lent B – March 25, 2012 – Hope Behind Calvary

 Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:3-4,12-13,14-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

Today’s complete biblical texts

Yesterday was the anniversary of the murder of Oscar Romero. He was assassinated while holding up the cup during Mass in a small chapel in San Salvador in 1980. Like today it was the fifth Sunday of Lent. In his homily that day he spoke of the violence and murders going on throughout the countryside. The church, he said, is the eternal pilgrim of history reflecting what is and what is not the reign of God. Archbishop Romero brought hope to people who were and still are powerless in Latin America.

About 2,639 years ago Jeremiah the prophet preached to the Israelites about a similar search for freedom in the midst of bloody wars and interminable exiles. Critical of the theology of a royal religion Jeremiah argued for honoring God’s covenant. Jeremiah tried to convince those with a tribal mentality that their God was also the God of all other human beings [1] even if they had different values and belief systems.

Jeremiah denounced the arrogance of religious leaders. Archbishop Romero espoused religious freedom and civic justice for all. Last Sunday the Rev. Dennis Terry, pastor of the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Louisiana, did the opposite and preached about Christian dominance in this country. He said, “I believe that Christians in America are the key to revival … the key to the economy turning around …. This nation was founded as a Christian nation … there’s only one God and his name is Jesus and if you do not agree, “Get out!”

This was not the message of Jeremiah or Oscar Romero. Such rhetoric is not uncommon these days when religious convictions are mixed in with political ones.  The Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, a prominent voice regarding the role of religion in a global democracy offers an opinion about that strategy. He wrote, “The use of god talk in American public life is often a lot less about religion and more about public policy.” [2]

How did Jesus go about influencing the religious and public spheres of life in his time? How do we do so today?

Lent is a time to re-engage with the life of Jesus, to get to know him better. It is also a time to rethink how our faith is lived out every day. Today’s gospel story sets the stage for our contemplation. Jesus just raised Lazarus from the dead in Bethany and Jerusalem was his destiny. This gospel implies he had already arrived there. He knew that, because of his actions, his own life was in danger. Perhaps Oscar Romero felt the same as he courageously spoke out against corrupt governments. Jesus told the people who came to see, and perhaps wanted to believe in him, that something has to die before something else can live.

Jesus was forecasting and praying about the death he was about to accept in order to honor his covenant with God. He was asking for strength to endure it. We can understand what he was talking about. Seeds buried in the ground last fall are now beginning to burst forth in a colorful array of flowers.

Jeremiah, Jesus, Oscar Romero, were good examples of bringing hope to powerless people. They reminded their followers that transformation is a slow and often painful process. Whether it is losing weight or changing public policy or re-imagining the role of religion in society we know that change requires patience, cooperation, determination and conviction.

In his last homily Archbishop Romero also spoke about Lent. In so many words he said Lent is a call to celebrate redemption in that difficult complex of cross and victory. [The cross is not always about death. It can also be a symbol of victory.] Many preach about the cross, he said, but those who have faith know that behind the Calvary of suffering and death is Easter, our resurrection, and that is the hope of all Christian people. [3]

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1 Spong, John Shelby. Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World. (NY: HarperOne) 2011, 106

2 Uhuru Sekou, Osagyefo. Gods, Gays, and Guns: Essays on Religion and the Future of Democracy (Campbell and Cannon Press, 2012) See also, Hollenbach, David. The Global Face of Public Faith: Politics, Human Rights and Christian Ethics. (Washington DC: Georgetown Univ. Press) 2003

3 In Wright, Scott. “Archbishop Oscar Romero: Easter is Now the Cry of Victory!” http://www.sicsal-usa.org/2008/10/archbishop-oscar-romero-easter-is-now-the-cry-of-victory/

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Homily – 18 March 2012 – Laetare Sunday


The Fourth Sunday of Lent B – March 18, 2012 – Laetare Sunday

2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23; Psalm 137:1-2,3,4-5,6; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

Complete biblical texts for today.

What makes us happy? Our health, the chance to get an education, relationships, faith in God? How about cookies and ice cream? In the old liturgical calendar, today was called Laetare Sunday. The term was taken from the opening chant (introit) sung while the priest entered the church for mass. The word means “rejoice.” How does our church make us jump for joy today?

We’ve been around for over 2000 years. We’ve had our struggles, our intramural disagreements, our divorces from other Christians, our public embarrassments. However, we are still here doing good work.

Our schools, hospitals, missions, charities, counseling centers and parishes around the world create an impressive network. Our church helps people improve their lives through education, all facets of health care, and building programs.

These ministries give us something to be proud of. However, there is, as you might guess, plenty of unfinished business. Complete unity among Christian churches remains illusive even as we strive to understand and appreciate other faith traditions. Official church teachings about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer baptized members of the church contradict a gospel that has no boundaries.

The shortage of ordained priests plagues us at the same time indications that there are high level conversations about ordaining women to the diaconate are encouraging. Our moral teachings, which often engage in a complicated clash with federal policies, do not seem to resonate with the lives of good, conscientious Catholic people.

Today’s first reading lists some of the reasons why the Israelites were sent into exile: they did not listen to the prophets of their time; they mocked the messengers and despised their warnings. Today, many people in the church are eager to make their voices heard to advance the kingdom of God. Their pleas are often minimized or ignored.

Diana Butler Bass, whose new book is about the end of religion as we know it and the birth of a new spiritual awakening, writes: “Americans are searching for churches …  that are not caught up in political intrigue, rigid rules and prohibitions … unresponsive authorities and inflexible dogmas. Instead, she continues, they want their religions to offer pathways of life-giving spiritual experience, connection, meaning, vocation and doing justice in the world.” [1]

Some will say if you do not like your religion, leave it. Others say don’t leave, try to improve it.

Todays gospel passage, written toward the end of the first century, was not a commercial to win over converts to Christianity. Scholars say it was written to inspire those who were already members of the church, encouraging them to hang in there, not to leave. The section we heard this morning is about eternal life and how Jesus came to save us from our own exiles. Was this a promise of life after death or was it a metaphor about the quality of life here and now? [2]

Today’s gospel reminds us not to worry about getting into heaven but to concentrate on making life more dignified here on earth.

In England, the 4th Sunday of Lent is known as Mothering Sunday marking a tradition when young daughters who worked as servants were given a day off to go home. It is also known as Refreshment Sunday because the Lenten fast was relaxed for a day. Special cakes were baked and enjoyed by all.

We continue our Lenten journey of reconciliation and rejuvenation pausing today to reflect on what makes us happy and why so many people in the world are not. While there is much for us to be thankful for, plenty of cookies and ice cream to bring us delight, there is so much more we are called to do.

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1 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-butler-bass/the-end-of-church_b_1284954.html

2 Adams, James Rowe. The Essential Reference Book for Biblical Metaphors: From Literal to Literary. (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press) 2005, 92