Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

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Homily – 30 September 2012 – Put Your Oxygen Mask on First. Then ….

26 Ordinary B – September 30, 2012 – Put Your Oxygen Mask on First. Then ….

Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14; James 5: 1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

In case of emergency, oxygen masks will drop down in front of you. If you are traveling with children or are seated next to someone who needs assistance place your mask on first and then help the others.

This instruction, heard while airplanes taxi on runways, does not sound right, does it. Shouldn’t we assist those who need our help before we tend to ourselves? The direction, however, makes sense. You cannot help someone else if you yourself cannot breathe, function or think clearly.

Last week’s gospel reminded us not to place ourselves first. However, it did not say we should not take care of ourselves first. Countless studies tell us diet, exercise, hard work and, yes, even prayer all make us feel good about who we are. That self-confidence strengthens our bodies, minds and spirits and gives us energy to advance ourselves and others.

The first reading today from the Book of Numbers presents an interesting question. Who is empowered by the Spirit to help others in the name of God? Some elders who were not ordained by God were doing good work prompting Moses to say “wouldn’t it be nice if all people of God were prophets … if God bestowed the spirit on them all.”

This gospel reading, a disconnected collection of sayings by Jesus, continues the question about who can perform “mighty deeds.” The disciples complained to Jesus that someone who was not one of them was doing good work. Jesus reminds them than anyone who is doing good will be rewarded. God does not confine the gifts of the Spirit only to certain authorized people or select faith traditions.

We Catholics do believe in the pervasiveness of the presence of Christ and that a holy Spirit moves about in this world. If people are doing good work, no matter what their religion is or even if they practice no religion, we know them as prophets of peace, advocates of civil rights and opponents of unjust laws and customs. What does this mean for us in this election season?

The reading from James this morning is one of many New Testament passages that show a concern for social justice. It connects with the teachings of the Old Testament prophets. [1] Words are addressed to those who do take care of themselves but then forget about, ignore or intentionally oppress those who need their assistance.

Political speeches and advertisements these days give us an example of what James might have been referring to. Many believe that private industry can improve the economy, create jobs and bridge the gap between rich and poor people. This theory might work when, after making a lot of money, those who are wealthy will take care of others especially those in need of jobs and those who work long hours in dire conditions for low wages. The disparities between capital and labor might be reduced when we work for the common good.

This weekend in honor of Vincent de Paul, patron of this faith community, we have our annual Ministry Fair. Vincent, after inheriting a lot of money, escaping the wrath of pirates and suffering a prison sentence, put on his oxygen mask and breathed in a holy spirit. With assistance from others like his friend Louise de Merrilac, Vincent himself found ways to assist others. Our Ministry Fair offers us ways to continue the spirit of Vincent by engaging us in the mission of our church.

Although we may not think about it all the time, we who make up St. Vincent’s parish are blessed. We trust in and worship a merciful and loving God; we are inspired by the life of Christ and walk humbly with a holy Spirit. We are good to one another, we welcome everyone, we challenge ourselves to grow and succeed.

The catechumens who knocked on the door of our church earlier today tell us they want to grow in their faith, learn more about who we are and how they can join our efforts. We can say to them, during these turbulent times in society and in our church, our oxygen masks are on tight. Now together let us find ways to help others.


1 Reginald H. Fuller Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today  (The Liturgical Press. 1984) Revised Edition, 352-353



Homily – 25 Sunday of Ordinary Time – 23 September 2012 – Who Do We Say We Are?

25 Ordinary B September 23, 2012  – Who Do We Say We Are?

Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; Psalm 54:3-6,8; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

In this week’s gospel, the disciples were thinking only of themselves and who among them was the greatest. Jesus says to them — look, if you really want to friend me you have to accept this little child. When you accept the child you embrace not only me but also the Holy One who sent me. Jesus really confused them.

For us to understand this passage we have to forget for a moment how we idealize childhood. Modern social science suggests that our cultural definition of children can affect our self image as adults. [1] No doubt parents treasured their children during the time of Jesus. However, in the public eye, “children had no social status or value whatsoever; until adulthood they were nobodies.”  [2]

The disciples had to make a difficult decision. They were being asked to accept little children as their equals. If they were to welcome children they would be breaking with the customs of their time. Yet, if they wanted to follow Jesus they had to put aside their own self promotion. Last week Betsy Rowe-Manning preached about who Jesus is in our lives. This week the question is turned on us. Who do we say we are?

Time was running out for Jesus and he sensed his death was imminent. He was even feeling betrayed. It seemed as if the disciples still did not comprehend what Jesus was doing nor did they understand their role in carrying out his mission. By way of example, Jesus invited them to a new way of relating to people regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or social class.

The letter from James is an exhortation to be considerate of one another. Last week a man who once served time in prison spoke to a group of us here in church. He talked about being held in a spiritual and psychological jail before being locked up for his crimes. Daryl said the hardest thing to learn is to “fight for the rights of others and not to be selfish.”

There are many, many children in our country who are not cared for, whose rights to a decent life have been taken away from them. Statistics on child trafficking, domestic violence, pedophilia and poverty portray an unromantic but realistic picture of childhood in America. An analysis of the 2010 census statistics reveals that one-in-five children in the United States lives in poverty. Why? Because more and more families are forced to live below the poverty line. While most parents try their best to provide for their children sometimes the opportunities for some of them to succeed are just not there. How will God uphold their lives? (Today’s Psalm 54) God needs our help.

Take for example Providence House operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph in New York City. “Their program has nurtured more than 12,000 women parolees and their children back from the brink.” [3]  Another good reason to stand with the Sisters!

Thankfully, our food pantry and other city-wide programs help to ease the pain. Here at St. Vincent’s there are also opportunities for our teens and youths to connect the word of God with everyday life. Today we are recognizing the young men and women who realize there is a holy spirit in their lives. Our faith formation programs and Sunday Youth Days are designed to engage students of all ages in a spiritual learning experience. Today is the first Youth Day and the topic is “justice and morality.” Our children’s liturgy of the word offers younger boys and girls a chance to hear God’s word at their own age level.

Before his execution on the cross Jesus challenged his disciples to get a better grip on who they were by asking them to embrace children. He was saying the greatest among us are those who serve others. Who do we say we are?


1 Cornelissen, Sharon. “The Representations of Childhood and the Self-Image of Adults in Modernity: The Image of the Child as ‘Other’ or Part of the Narrative of Life.” in Social Cosmos – URN:NBN:NL:UI:10-1-100189.

2 See Donahue & Harrington, Mark, 285 in Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2008) 152

“Speaking the Truth to the Vatican” in  The New York Times, 9/18/12, page A12

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Betsy Rowe-Manning Homily for Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dear Friends:

Here is the homily given by Betsy Rowe-Manning (Parish Life Director at St. Vincent de Paul Church, Albany, NY) this past Sunday, September 16, 2012. It was Catechetical Sunday.

Please comment on the blog or send your thoughts directly to Betsy —



THE WEEK, a 50 page (more or less) magazine with a banner that claims it contains:  “all you need to know about everything” is delivered to my house on Friday or Saturday.  Highlights of the week past are recounted through news stories/the world at a glance, US, European and international editorials, Talking points.  It highlights people, art, health and science and the like.   And in every issue, on the bottom of page 6 is a 3 1/2”x 4” column:  Good Week for:/Bad Week for.

Recently the magazine declared it was a good week for Besse Cooper who celebrated her 116 birthday and a bad week for drivers in Washington, DC determined  by a national insurance study to be the most accident-prone in the nation.

Tragically, during the past decade, the church has often been viewed at the negative end of the spectrum:  We have had many, many, many bad weeks. So many, in fact, that we can, at times, fail to recognize, much less acknowledge A GOOD WEEK:

  • A week when:  the NUNS were on the bus with an outpouring of support at each stop,
  • When Sister Simone Campbell’s offered inspired words at the Democratic convention,
  • When Bishop Hubbard met in a room bursting at the seams with people passionately committed to explore how our diocese might open more doors to ministry with and to the LGTB community,
  • A week when parishes embrace radical hospitality and model service,
  • A week when hunger for the divine, for meaning, for connection to the holy is satisfied.
  • When we, as James suggests, demonstrate the faith we profess here each Sunday through good works in every facet of life.

Today the church in the United States celebrates Catechetical Sunday, an opportunity to renew our commitment to proclaim the GOOD news, to live into it, rather than the BAD news or the DULL news.

Jesus asked his disciples: BUT WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM ?  And Peter nailed it:  YOU ARE THE CHRIST.

WHO DO WE SAY THAT HE IS ?   The ultimate good week is the week we live and tell the Christ story, the story of the new heaven and a new earth.

In this story, the risen Jesus is the source of God’s new creation, and the Holy Spirit is the energy bringing the new world to birth. The story is one of hope in the power of God, who comes from the future into our present world to bring justice, peace and reconciliation.  Modeled on the freedom and life of Jesus Christ, the story, our story, is all about the transformation of human hearts, human relationships, societal institutions, culture and, eventually, the transformation of all creation.

Please understand, we CANNOT, and we WILL not ignore what in our Church needs fixing.   But, at the same time, let’s not allow the bad news to overpower us and distract us from THE STORY, God’s new creation in Christ.   That’s story we share, the story we pass on.

If right this minute you could share just one part of the story to one person what would it be?

Note: At this time the assembly was invited to “shout out” what one part of the story would be. Many individuals responded out loud.

It’s true:  knowledge of the essential teachings of our faith is important, it’s a foundation that is essential to building life long faith formation.  It nurtures Christian identity, provides an accurate exposition of the faith and a common language with which to express, share and celebrate it.  Ultimately however, we aren’t seeking ONLY information. Christianity is a commitment to a person who is the Son of God.   What we seek is transformation:  the realization that God is here right now.  We seek believe in the conviction that we encounter Christ in our daily lives: at work, at school, in our homes, everywhere.

This is the what we celebrate today on Catechetical Sunday and today, we acknowledge and express gratitude to –

  • Those who dedicate themselves to the catechetical ministry nurturing faith in children, young people, in those discerning membership in the Church,
  • To leaders of Children’s Liturgy of the Word who break open the world with and for our children,
  • To Eileen Shirey, Dave Rowell and all the members of the adult faith formation committee
  • To Deb Chard-Weircham, Mary Mattachierro and the PSALTY team who catechecize through theater and song,
  • And most especially: we thank Susan Sweeney, Joan Marso, Kate Paul and the RCIA team for whom this community is extraordinarily grateful.  They teach as Jesus did, they tell the story and bear witness to Christ through lives of faith and service.

But it is important today, to recognize that we are ALL catechists nourished and strengthened at the Eucharistic Table.  And let’s not forget that when we celebrate Christ’s presence in the everyday, we can make this a VERY GOOD week.



Homily – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 9 September 2012 – The Potent Words of Jesus

23 Ordinary B – September 9, 2012 – The Potent Words of Jesus

 Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; 7-10; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37

Abracadabra! Alakazam! Alohomora! How often have we heard or seen words used to suggest that something powerful, magical and seemingly impossible was happening? Abracadabra is taken from ancient symbols once believed to hold real power. Alohomora, a combination of Hawaiian and Latin words, was used in the Harry Potter series to unlock doors and open windows.

Many religions use magical, mystical language in their rituals to help its members connect to something mysterious and miraculous. “This is my body” and “this is my blood” are the sacred words we use to express a belief in something that defies explanation. According to John Pilch ancient cultures believed that words actually contained power. If you translated the word it would lose that power.

Today’s gospel retains the original potent word Ephphata — the word Jesus used to heal a man who could not hear. We use similar words and actions in our initiation rites to open symbolically the ears of an adult to hear the word of God.

The Greeks living at that time would have understood this gospel story as proof that Jesus was a wonder worker. The Palestinians of that era interpreted the passage as the fulfillment of the Isaiah story heard this morning about God redeeming the displaced Israelites. The evangelist Mark wrote the story to point out that the disciples were not tuned in to what or why Jesus was doing what he did  — that they should treat every person, rich or poor, sick or healthy, powerful or vulnerable with loving care.

What magic words can be used today to heal a broken world, a divided country, a dysfunctional household? The letter from James was written for a community made up of both wealthy and poor people. However, the rich Christians at the time had no political power to make any social changes on behalf of people who were poor. Still James reminded his listeners of the obligation to care for people who are struggling to get by.

What words do pastoral leaders today offer us? In his first social encyclical “Charity in Truth” Pope Benedict 16 reaffirmed that our participation in the political process is guided by a concern for the common good. He said, “Justice is inseparable from charity” and “every Christian is called to practice this charity.”  John Paul II once said, “take special care of the weakest sectors of society.”

In their Labor Day statement the US Bishops wrote, “Millions of Americans suffer from unemployment, underemployment or are living in poverty as their basic needs too often go unmet. This represents a serious economic and moral failure for our nation.”

The Republican and Democratic conventions are over. The platforms of the two parties are considerably different. Many carefully chosen words were used to persuade us to choose one platform, one candidate, over another. (And, how is it that the swing states are called “battleground states?” Is the election process really a war?)

Our decisions as citizens, as Christians, as Catholics, are not to be guided by the clever and often deceitful language used in political advertisements. On the other hand, our votes can be framed by the powerful healing words of Jesus the Anointed One.

Magical words have been used since ancient times to fool us but also to stimulate our imaginations and actions. When our imaginations are energized we can reach creatively for what seems impossible. What words will we use in the coming weeks as we ponder our role in government? How will we use our voices to vote for the common good?


1 John J. Pilch. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B  (Collegevill: The Liturgical Press) 1996, 133-135

2 Reginald H. Fuller Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 Revised Edition), 345-346

3 Benedict 16. Caritas in Veritate, June 29, 2009, 6,7