Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – Seventh Sunday of Easter – 20 May 2012 – Turn Back. Stand Still. Or, Move Forward


Easter 7 B – May 20, 2012 – Turn Back. Stand still. Or, Move Forward?

Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26; Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20; 1John 4:11-16; John 17:11b-19

Complete biblical texts for today

When the Israelites escaped from captivity in Egypt their faith in their mysterious God was reignited. They had new hope. However, unknown to them at the time, their journey to freedom would be long and arduous. 

Some of them grew so afraid and impatient they wanted to return to slavery where at least they had food. Some grew tired of the challenges and just wanted to stand still. Others were willing to brave the odds. They continued on with great hope and faith in God and their guides.

I wonder what would have happened to these pilgrims without leaders like Moses and Miriam and other prophetic voices. Where would our Christian story be if these sojourners had not been so persistent in their faith and daring in their aspirations?

Our religious tradition is founded on and, in many ways, is similar to the biography of our ancestors. Ours is a story of never ending transformation — searching, discovering and growing. We have not yet found the promised land.

Now that our Lenten and Easter journeys are taking another turn is there anything different about us? Were these holy seasons a time of regeneration? What about our trust in God, our hope for the future, our care for one another. Have we been reenergized in any way? Do we feel closer to God and one another? 

Saying goodbye to someone or something you love is a difficult thing to do. In this morning’s gospel Jesus was saying farewell to his followers before his crucifixion. This narrative was written in the late first century to a specific Christian community in Syria. That young church was undergoing a painful separation from the Jewish society to which its members had belonged. [1] It was not easy for them to let go of their traditions. Have we been able to let go of something, anything, since Ash Wednesday? What did we take on, for the common good?

Jesus was asking God, his father, to watch over his disciples and prayed that they would be free from harm, that they would become holy. He said, “Sanctify them.” (Literally, to set them apart for sacred use.) Through his disciples he hoped that all people would come to know God, to advance the work he began.

His prayer was not just for his followers back then; it is for you and me. In many ways that prayer is a foundation for the universal call to holiness underlined at the Second Vatican Council  [2] — an invitation to assume leadership in our lives, our communities, our church. Otherwise, someone else will [assume leadership].

We also heard this morning a story about choosing a new apostle to replace Judas. Some say the requirement for being called an apostle was to be one of the women and men in Jesus’s inner circle. This passage was written long after Jesus, for an emergent church also in need of new leaders in confusing times. Some would say we are in the same situation today — in need of new leadership in our country and, even, in our church.

We know today that all baptized members are called to be disciples of Christ. What we may not realize is our potential to be inspiring innovators in our own neighborhoods and churches. We might ask ourselves do we, here at St. Vincent’s in the Diocese of Albany, have the “capacity for continually innovating in the service of our calling and commitment?” [3]

Called to be holy, summoned to carry on the mission of Jesus, we are challenged to keep God close to us and others. This task is no harder than it was for our ancestors in faith who braved the harsh desert chasing after the invisible God and all of God’s illusive rewards. It is no more difficult than, say, someone like Mary Magdalen who persevered even when other apostles did not believe her. 

So. Has anything new or different happened to us since we began marking the holy days of Lent and Easter?  Or, were we just going through the ritual motions? As the spirited flames and winds of Pentecost draw near can we feel the fire in our bellies and the strength of our convictions to grow in our trust in God, to do good deeds, to make our visions for a heavenly future a reality. The choice is ours: Will we fall back on old habits, will we stand still and do nothing or will we boldly dare to move forward, imagining all the possibilities?

_____

1 Rensberger, D in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, p. 1814

2 The Church in the Modern World. (Gaudium et Spes ) No 39.

3 Peers, Larry. “The Danger in Getting By” in the Alban Weekly, May 7, 2012


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Homily – Fifth Sunday of Easter – 6 May 2012 – Co-Workers in the Vineyard


5 Easter B – May 6, 2012 – Co-Workers in the Vineyard

Acts 9: 26-31; Psalm 22:26-28,30-32; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8

Complete biblical passages for today

Receiving holy communion for the first time is a momentous and exciting event for our children and all of us. Some might say it is the best part about being Catholic. 

Last Tuesday we celebrated another sacrament — confirmation. In his homily Bishop Howard Hubbard spoke about vines and branches — the parable we just heard in today’s gospel. He reminded us that the vine represents Christ and the branches symbolize you and me.

Vines need nourishment and care to produce good grapes. Christ provides that sustenance, the bishop said. But, if the branches are not cultivated the grapes will not be good. If the grapes are not good — imagine! — there would be no jelly, no juice, no wine. In short, the members of the church, you and me, we need to be enriched before we can bear good fruit.

We believe we are sustained by the body and blood of Christ, God’s word and one another. However, our rituals and our sacramental food and drink are not enough. They do not give shelter to people who are homeless; they do not feed people who are hungry; they do not rescue children who are trafficked, bullied or abused. 

In this sacrament of communion we see something of ourselves and a call to action. We are not only branches we are also the vines stretching out, reaching out to one another. That our children will share the eucharist today, and the rest of their lives, does not mean they will stop relying on their parents and guardians for a home, meals and education. God’s love for them is dependent on our love.

Sometimes our image of ourselves as members of Christ’s vine is not strong. We Catholics often are dependent on others to define who we are, what we believe and how to live our lives. How can we begin to understand ourselves not only as branches but also vines? Can we see ourselves, clergy and laity, as coworkers in the vineyard who together till the soil, trim the vines and pick the grapes?

It is easy to understand why some people say their church no longer speaks to them, their lives, their concerns. Frustrated they often seek other vineyards. But, the church is defined by all of its members not just those who are ordained. If we all understand ourselves to be the church we might see the importance of sticking with it, to become more engaged with it, to cultivate it, nurture it, feed it with our own spirit. 

There are thousands of different grapes in the world: red and white, sour and sweet, seedless and not. Sometimes the owners of vineyards cross two or more varieties of grapes to create a new blend or hybrid. The Catholic church today is experiencing a cross fertilization of diverse voices. Although the process is slow and sometimes frustrating, from time to time we do see something new emerging. A mixing of good fruit from the vine will produce new refreshing religious experiences for us all.

Today new branches are sprouting on the vine, our young brothers and sisters who are here to receive their first communion. As they grow and become more involved as members of the church it is important for us to listen to them. 

For today, let us enjoy the fruits of our labor, let us eat heartily and drink merrily of the bread of life and the cup of salvation. After all, mindful and respectful of the God of all creation who initiates and guides us in all we do, we are the coworkers in the vineyard who produce these holy gifts.