Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 16th Sunday Ordinary Time – 22 July 2012 – Whom Do We Trust?


16 Ordinary Time B – July 22, 2012 – Whom Do We Trust?

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34

Complete biblical texts for today

Some of you may recall a popular TV game show that aired between 1957 and 1962. It had the grammatically questionable title: “Who Do You Trust?” The host would ask a married couple a question and the husband would then decide if he could give the correct answer or … “trust” his wife to do so. 

Whom do you trust today? Your loved ones, spiritual shepherds, elected officials, the evening news? Do you trust your own conscience, your inner instincts? But how are they shaped; by what, by whom? 

Some of the psalms we sing at liturgy ask God for help. Others give thanks and praise. This morning’s psalm twenty-three is known as a “psalm of trust.” It may have been based on the words of a priest after the exile — a time when people needed trustworthy leaders. He encouraged the Israelites not be to afraid because God was with them. [1]

The passages from Jeremiah and the gospel of Mark today also employ the metaphors of the shepherd and the sheep. Jeremiah, in an oracle of judgement, admonished leaders who did not care for the sheep but scattered them and drove them away. You cannot trust shepherds who ignore the needs of their sheep. Jeremiah’s prophecy imagined that future leaders would do a better job caring for the people much like God would.

There are many challenges for us today and even more opinions about what to do. Whether it is about eating, exercising, voting for a president or buying a car it is hard to decipher what and whom to trust. Is global warming a real problem? Is fracking a good or bad thing? Are medicines prescribed by doctors the right ones? And … if organic food is better for us what does that say about the rest of the vegetables in supermarkets? 

Some say that spiritual leaders might be the only honest voices left. Surely the clergy will tell us the truth. However, historically, even clergy are quite capable of putting a spin on various political and spiritual topics. Then comes another question. 

What if the members of a religion disagree with their shepherds especially in matters of morality and doctrine? How are we to know exactly what our religion teaches on any issue? Do we trust our catechists, our pastoral leaders or are we left to our own inclinations? A recent Gallup poll indicates that less than 50% of Catholics have confidence in organized, institutional religion. No wonder the sheep are scattered! 

Forget the shepherds for a moment. What about you and me? When I asked for ideas about this homily one parishioner said, from time to time the sheep need a shave. What a clever thought. What would happen if we shed our comfort zones, our entitlements, our expectations of others, our need to always have the correct answer? What if we agreed to live with ambiguities, to accept compromises? Or, what if we took more risks and tried not to be so certain about everything? Would there be fewer falsehoods? Might there be less animosity towards others? Fewer frictions and tensions in society? We don’t really know.

We continue plodding along, grazing the pastures, looking for sustenance and simple pleasures. Sometimes when there is a need for a moral compass shepherds do offer clear directions whether the sheep agree with them or not. Sometimes when left on their own sheep will take a risk. They will follow new paths even if they do not know where they will take them. Eventually others will join the journey.

Jeremiah said trust in God. This act of faith is not always easy to do. The gospel today tells us that Jesus will lead the way. Jesus had little patience for the manipulation and exploitation of people by civic and religious authorities. He took great risks to model possibilities for living in new ways. He worked to break down barriers that divide people. Jesus tried to simplify life with a few basic teachings. 

Perhaps organized religions have made Christianity complicated. No matter who they were Jesus held people in his opened arms to manifest the love of God. He cried for those who had no one else to give them hope. He taught the people who followed him to be peaceful, to pray, to be kind to others, to be humble, to speak and act honestly. And, you know what? People came to trust him! Whom do we trust?

____

1 Miller, P. in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, 734 and 751-2

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Homily – 14th Sunday Ordinary Time – 8 July 2012 – Prophets With Meta-Ideas


14 Ordinary Time B – July 7-8, 2012 – Prophets With Meta-Ideas 

Ezekiel 2:2-5; Psalm 123:1-4; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6

Did you ever have a brilliant idea, what might be called a “meta idea,” and you were eager to share it with someone? Did you ever get this for an answer? That’s impossible! It will never work!

One wonders what life would be like if physicists like Peter Higgs did not follow through in their search for the boson particle that could change the way we think about creation. What if inventors, theologians, teachers gave up on their meta-ideas because they were rejected and silenced? What wonderful works of art, music, literature and dance would be missing if creative and imaginative artists gave in to negativity.

The adjective “meta” is a Greek derivative and means beyond or after. Someone with meta-ideas imagines possibilities for the future, ideas that may challenge the existing state of affairs.

That is what prophets like Ezekiel did. A married man, Ezekiel came from a priestly family and preached newness after the destruction of the temple and the exile of the Israelites. He first admonished Israel for going way off track from its beginnings even suggesting that punishment by God was justified. Then, using utopian language, he imagined people endowed with a Spirit could claim a vision for the future. [1] Ezekiel had meta-ideas but was despised by his people who, at the time, were giving up on God.

The gospel reading continues this thread. Jesus, however, was more than a prophet. He broke rank with old spiritual habits and beliefs, he challenged the religious authorities of his time and he presented meta-ideas for living in a new Spirit. His ideas were rejected by authorities and even those close to him. It is likely then that this passage was written for early Christians whose own teachings were spurned. [2]

Walter Brueggermann wrote, “It is the task of prophetic imagination and ministry to engage people in the promise of newness that is at work in our history with God.” [3] What, do we imagine, would continue to nourish our relations with God and one another? Some say that some religious leaders are standing by the status quo. What groups, then, offer us meta-ideas that could change the course of our history without forsaking the fundamental Christian message?

Women religious have always helped people in their care to imagine the possibilities for getting ahead in life, for eradicating poverty in neighborhoods, for staffing hospitals, nursing homes and schools, for bringing hope to those who have none.

The organization Pax Christi imagines justice for all peoples. The movement was inspired during World War II when a bishop protested the deportation of Jews from France. He pleaded that all people, whatever their race or religion, have the right to be respected by individuals and by states.

Call to Action is a group that began in 1976 under the auspices of American bishops as a response to the challenges of the Second Vatican Council. It continues to bear the responsibility emphasized by Pope Paul VI when he said the laity have been summoned to create a more just world.

Collectively, Catholic bishops in the United States can be prophetic. Their conference will soon publish Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty and a Broken Economy. It is a document that will express concern for people hurt by certain economic structures, people who are jobless and living in poverty.

Locally, there are commissions and organizations like the Diocesan Peace & Justice Commission, Circles of Mercy, Unity House, Habitat for Humanity, the Maureen Joyce Center and others that have meta-ideas for bringing hope to those who have none. Looking for something to do? There are plenty of opportunities.

And, of course, there are parishes like this one. Here we continue to search for ways to carry on the work of our patrons Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac who left indelible impressions on society in seventeenth century France. We who gather here to worship God are also called not only to take care of ourselves but to courageously challenge assumptions, proclaiming new possibilities for justice and peace.

___

1 Peterson, David L. In Attridge, Harold W. (Ed.) The Harper Collins Study Bible NRSV (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, 1096-1098.

2 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 1984 Revised Edition, 322-324

3 Brueggermann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. (NY: Fortress Press) 1978, 62-63


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Homily – 13th Sunday Ordinary Time – 1 July 2012 – Owing a Debt to Unlucky Ones


13 Ordinary Time B – July 1, 2012 – Owing a Debt to Unlucky Ones

Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalm 30:2-6, 11-13; 2 Corinthians: 7,9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43

Most graduations are over and so are the speeches. The themes were often the same: Congratulations on what you have achieved. Strive to be the best you can be. Good luck in finding a job!

Every so often, a speech is more challenging, like the one author Michael Lewis gave at the Princeton University Baccalaureate. He said: “Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them … and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.” [1]

In a similar way Andrew Delbanco writes, “… at the core of the college idea is the notion that to serve others is to serve oneself … providing a sense of purpose … countering the loneliness and aimlessness by which all people, young and old, can be afflicted.” [2]

It seems that both writers are saying if you and I want to feel good about ourselves, if we want to avoid feeling insignificant, or worse yet, depressed, let’s do ourselves a favor … let’s go out and help someone.

This compassionate idea may be hard for us to grasp as the gap between people who are wealthy and poor continually widens. It is a puzzling challenge for college graduates who owe thousands of dollars in student loans. It is difficult to understand when societies like ours are still debating whether they have a responsibility to assure the good health of all its citizens.

Consider though how lucky some are to have a job, good health, partners, spouses, children, friends. But what about those whose lives have changed drastically because of an accident, a disease, unemployment, a broken relationship. It is not easy to say they are merely unlucky — is it? Some blame God saying it’s God’s will. Others believe it is bad luck. Still others will blame themselves. What do you think? [Paused here for congregation participation] 

The book of Wisdom this morning gives us a clue to understanding the miracle stories in Mark’s gospel — stories about two women who were in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. Wisdom tells us that God does not deal in death; that all creation is meant to be imperishable. Somehow death, symbolized by the serpent, entered the world and changed everything. God had to take action to save humanity from death. In the psalm today we praised and thanked God for “rescuing us.”

Note that the author of Wisdom is speaking not about physical but moral and spiritual death. [3] These are two aspects of death (spiritual and moral) that, today, are gripping diverse cultures, dividing citizenships, challenging religious authorities, questioning belief systems.

God may be defined in many ways. We all have our pet names for God. One way is to try to understand God as a process — a never ending pouring out process (kenosis) [4]

God gave something of God in the act of creation. The same thing happened in the birth of Jesus and in the infusion of the holy Spirit. God is continually at work in acts of creativity and relationships. God’s hospitality knows no limitation, it has no boundary. Unlike God we have limitations. There is only so much we can give before there is no more.

Both gospel miracles are references to faith and trust in God. They are about the possibilities of salvation, the task that God set out to do because evil lurks everywhere. However, there is more to the stories. Jesus felt that something left him when he healed the woman. Part of Jesus was spent, poured, as he ministered to her. The reading from Paul this morning said Jesus left behind riches so that we would not be poor and that all peoples would experience the abundance of God here on earth.

In human relations something of us, part of our own abundance, is spent when we willingly give ourselves to others — our lovers, our children, strangers. This is not true when someone, deprived of equal rights and the freedom to choose, is coerced or forced into some form of subordination.

The idea of giving something of oneself became apparent to me several years ago. While designing a hospital chapel in Owensboro, Kentucky, I commissioned a sculptor to fashion a statue of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter, the young girl in today’s gospel. Sadly and without warning the young artist died suddenly before completing the sculpture. We decided to use it anyway. It now stands in the hospital garden unfinished. Parts of Jesus and Jairus’ daughter are missing from the statue. It serves as a reminder that the work Jesus started is not done.

The word church is derived from the Greek ἐκκαλέω and literally means to be called out. As members of this church, like new college graduates, you and I are summoned to do something to strengthen ourselves, to establish our identity and to strive for success. However, we are also called to give something of ourselves back to society. Princeton University graduates were challenged by Michael Lewis like you and I are challenged by the Word of God today. What can we do to help those who are experiencing what one might call “bad luck?”

___

1 Lewis, Michael. “Don’t Eat Fortune’s Cookie” Princeton University Baccalaureate, June 3, 2012

2 Delbanco, Andrew. College: What It Was and Should Be (Princeton University, 2012) in Roth, Michael, New York Times, July 10, 2012, page 17.

3 Fuller, Reginald H. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 319-322.

4 From the Greek κενόω — to empty out